Recently, a young man climbing "Tape Worm" at the Midnight Surf wall took a lead fall from a point between the first and second bolt. His rope ran from his belay, through a quickdraw hanging from the first bolt, to his harness. On this particular route, the first bolt is located high enough that he would not have decked under normal circumstances. Unfortunately, when he fell, his rope was completely severed by the lower carabiner on the quickdraw attached to the first bolt, and he did deck. He sustained head injuries, but, thankfully, is well on his way to a full recovery.
Although we still have some more research to do, including replicating the incident under safe, controlled conditions, we believe it important enough to publish this report as soon as possible in hopes that it might prevent a similar accident.
The quickdraw in question is comprised of two Trango carabiners marked: "Trango Italy." The CE 0638 rating on each biner is 24 kiloNewtons in line with the spine and 4 kiloNewtons perpendicular to the spine. (This is the older style classic wire biner made in Italy - not the newer design made in Korea.) The two biners are connected with a Petzl dogbone rated at 22 kiloNewtons. The quickdraw was removed from the first bolt of "Tape Worm" shortly after the accident. It was found to be intact and operable, but the two biners were severely worn by the actions of a climbing rope being pulled through the bottom one and the hanger bracket grinding away on the top one.
It is not known who hung this quickdraw or when it was hung.
To get a better look at the worn portion of the lower biner, a silcone rubber mold was made of the affected area and an acrylic resin model cast. This model - an exact copy of the worn area - was sectioned and photographed. An enlarged photo of the cross section cut was then traced with a vector graphics program. The sharp edges, one of which severed the rope, are clearly shown in the illustration.
Conclusion: One of the two sharp edges that were formed by wearing of the carabiner by climbing ropes severed a dynamic climbing rope when a falling climber pulled the rope tightly against the carabiner.
Commentary: The carabiner in question was never intended to be permanently hung on a popular route and expected to withstand numerous leader falls. Sand-laden ropes serve as a very effective abrasive cutting tool and can wear down through light-weight aluminum carabiners in a relatively short period of time.
Quickdraws have been left hanging on several overhanging routes in Muir Valley, as well as other climbing venues, over the years by developers and climbers. There are no routine inspections of hardware performed on MV routes. Climbing visitors to Muir Valley are warned to trust absolutely nothing they find affixed to the rock faces.
Several Good Samaritan climbers have offered to either remove or replace worn draws left hanging on Muir climbs with steel perma-draws and are currently in the process of doing this. A big thank you to Hoosier Heights for their donation of 50 new Perma-draws.
Two important Reminders of longstanding Muir Valley rules:
If you wish to see this place remain open to climbing:
1. Please be more responsible about maintaining gear that you leave hanging here. If you don't wish to routinely inspect and replace it, then don't hang it!
2. Please report any and all accidents involving serious injury and/or equipment failure to the landowners immediately after their occurrence.
We were all lucky this time. It could have been much worse. If the draw had been on one of the higher hangers, the results would have been grim.
Rick & Liz Weber