Three climbers who all had previous outdoor sport climbing experience were climbing in a group. Due to one climber (Climber B) having less experience than the others, Climber A led the route first, placing opposed quickdraws on the anchor bolts to lower off. Climber B then led the route and used the in situ quickdraws to lower. Finally Climber C led the route with the intention of cleaning the anchors and lowering off the fixed gear.
Climber C reached the anchor, which was situated on a large, sloping ledge (approximately 4-5 metres above the highest bolt on the route) and shared with an adjacent route. The climber was using a knotted sling and screw gate carabiner as a safety system, and as the anchor was positioned above head height, had to reposition the screw gate on the knotted sling to allow it to reach the anchor, which required the carabiner to be taken off the sling and reattached. The screw gate was attached to the anchor and locked (confirmed later when gear was retrieved). The climber weight tested the sling then indicated they were safe to the belayer (who kept the climber on belay), before removing the quickdraws from the anchor. Upon leaning back to attach the quickdraws to their harness, the sling released from the screw gate and Climber C stumbled backwards and fell approximately 10-12m down the series of ledges on the climb. The fall was arrested by the belayer approximately 1 metre above the ground.
Bystanders assisted the other two climbers in administering first aid and calling the emergency services. The fallen climber was attended by paramedics and transferred to Glan Clwyd A&E by ambulance. After a full body CT scan, the climber was confirmed to have no broken bones but suffered cuts/abrasions, very severe bruising, whiplash and a sprained ankle.
After the fall, the sling was undamaged and attached to the climber’s harness while the screw gate carabiner was locked and attached to the anchor, ruling out equipment failure.
The incident occurred when using a wide sling (approximately 20mm width) which creates knots which are large enough to become trapped in the narrow end of the screw gate carabiner that was used. This gives the false impression that the sling has been clipped to the screw gate carabiner when it has not, as happened here and caused the climber to fall. One of the bystanders who assisted had seen another accident which occurred due to the same problem of a knot getting trapped in a carabiner and the climber believing it to be properly clipped. Care should always be taken to check all knots and equipment, but if using a knotted sling extra care should be taken to ensure that the sling is properly attached to the carabiner.
As the last bolt before the anchor was at least 4m below the anchor, the resulting fall was very large. On most bolted routes this would not be the case and a fall from the anchor would have been considerably shorter and unlikely to result in injury.
Sport rock climbing
Serious injury requiring medical treatment
Slip, trip or fall, Climber Error
Rescue Services Involved?