Thursday, October 26, 2006

Check Your Gear

There's an good article up here on how Todd lived and died--reportedly he died because his belay loop failed. Apparently the belay loop was very well-worn, to the point where it just broke. I'll wait and see if there's not some other piece of evidence in this accident equation, but right now that's what's being reported. I find this almost unbearably sad because this means Todd's accident was very avoidable. We all make mistakes, but a failed gear loop is the proverbial lightning bolt from the sky, something that just doesn't happen. Todd had more than enough money to buy himself a new harness or 50, he was likely climbing on worn gear simply because he knew belay loops are massively over-built. Some might ask why a climber of his stature and experience wouldn't just get boxes of free harnsesses delivered to his door, but one of his decisions later in life was to avoid pro deals or sponsorship of any kind. He simply wanted to climb, and made more than enough money doing his public speaking gigs to not need free gear. If he paid for all his gear then he wasn't beholden to anyone or anything when he went climbing, it was his game and his alone. Some climbers have attacked Todd over the years for shameless self-promotion in order to further his climbing career; his sponsor-free style of climbing in his latter years shows exactly where his mind truly was--on going climbing. I just wish he had spent the $ on a new harness. Hell, he owned a climbing store loaded with new harnesses, he could have shop-lifted himself one.

Some climbers will likely start rapping and belaying off carabiners stuck through both their leg and waist-belt tie-in points based on this accident. I think it very likely that this is more dangerous than using the belay loop due to the potential to cross-load the carabiner. I've broken three carabiners over the years while climbing, always due to cross-loading or having the gate inadvertently open due to a weird load. The belay loop is a far safer option as it virtually elminates cross-loading or gate torque. I've sewed and tested belay loops, it's about impossible to break one--even a very poorly sewed belay loop tests out as very, very strong. In fact, despite seeing some woeful belay loops in the field this is the first time I've ever heard of one ever breaking. But if it's just totally worn-out, as Todd's may have been then it can obviously break.

Another friend of mine recently broke a very thin Dyneema sling while cleaning new routes. He was on a top-rope with the sling equalizing one piece and the rope clipped into another. The Dyneema sling was girth-hitched into another sling extension, and basically cut itself. Fortunately my friend's rope was anchored into another anchor which held, or he would likely have been somewhere between severely injured or dead. I've never liked those super-skinny Dyneema slings, the small weight savings just didn't seem worth it to me, I like gear with a margin of error. Some friends at at a n equipment manufacturer did some tests on these slings also, the results just weren't encouraging, I'll leave it at that.

There have been several recent fatal accidents in paragliding and hang gliding due to people using beat-up or inappropriate old gear as well. This year I got rid of my old helmet (went with a ski helmet, seems like a better option than most of the PG helmets), replaced my primary reserve and and my tandem reserve, updated my first aid kit and just generally got my gear in order. These sports are dangerous enough without using worn-out gear.

I'm off to the garage to throw out some old slings, check my belay loops/harness bits and just generally give my gear a good once-over. Everything is likely just fine, but...


Brenden Ramsay said...
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Brenden Ramsay said...

When I heard how Todd's harness broke it left me feeling sick. I was just talking to one of my partners last weekend how my harness is up for retirement at the end of the season. I've inspected all my soft gear and some of it is definitly going to be phased out very soon. Thankfully my harness still looks in excelent shape, but it's still being replaced soon!

Anonymous said...

Todd was one of the finest climbers a fellow climber could ever share a rope with. Having shared camp 4 sites with him during the 80's always bootstraped my own efforts, and his encouragement pushed me up when I lacked the courage. Rarely does one encounter friends who are such an inspiration. We lost him to a worn belay loop. Please check you equipment, and raise a toast to Todd.