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Re: Zion National Park: Investigation Into Climbing Fatality

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avatar Zion National Park: Investigation Into Climbing Fatality
March 17, 2009 02:56PM
Zion National Park (UT)
Results Of Investigation Into Climbing Fatality Released

On October 17, 2008, James Welton fell to his death while climbing the Touchstone route in Zion National Park. The National Park Service subsequently conducted an investigation into the cause of the accident in cooperation with the Washington County Sherriff’s office. Their findings have been released. The three-person climbing party had climbed three pitches (approximately 180 feet) without significant event. When the member leading the fourth pitch had reached the pitch’s top anchor, he tied the end of a rope into it. The climbing party’s gear, weighing 104 pounds, was attached to the bottom end of this rope, which was to be used as a haul line. The climbing partner then ran the haul line, which was also Welton’s ascending line, through a Petzl Pro-traxion device, a pulley which incorporates a cam allowing for rope capture as rope is hauled in. The climbing partner pulled 15 feet of slack through the Pro-traxion prior to Welton starting his ascent. The group planned to haul the gear to the top of the fourth pitch after Welton, the second climber, had completed his ascent. The third party member planned to ascend a second rope, the leader’s lead climbing rope. Welton’s fall occurred when the Pro-traxion failed soon after he started to ascend the haul line. The Pro-traxion operates with a cam and pulley mounted to a fixed plate. A sliding plate allows a rope to be inserted into the device. When the sliding plate is properly closed, a button locks the device together. NPS investigators were able to reproduce the failure of the Pro-traxion during informal tests when the device was closed improperly. They noted that the device could appear to be properly closed (but not truly closed) if the device was weighted prior to the side plate sliding into place. When improperly closed, the device can deform when weighted, causing rope to move rapidly past the cam in the unintended direction. When the Pro-traxion failed, the 15 feet of slack ran rapidly through the device, causing Welton to fall this distance while still attached to the rope by his mechanical ascenders. The force generated by the fall transferred to Welton’s ascenders, which severed the rope, resulting in Welton’s tragic fatal fall.

avatar Re: Zion National Park: Investigation Into Climbing Fatality
March 21, 2009 01:06PM
Wow, that's really unfortunate. Seems like poor equipment design. Shouldn't the rope be strong enough to support the impact of a 15 foot fall though?


I should be in Zion in a little over two weeks to do the Angel's Landing hike, I'll probably try and check out where this happened.
avatar Re: Zion National Park: Investigation Into Climbing Fatality
March 21, 2009 02:06PM
dqniel wrote:

> Wow, that's really unfortunate. Seems like poor equipment
> design. Shouldn't the rope be strong enough to support the
> impact of a 15 foot fall though?

I don't think that was it. The rope is supposed to jam in the device and hold anything attached. The "15 foot of slack" must have been the excess rope out the other end. Once it loosened, the rest of the rope was going to slide right through. I'm not a climber, and I've never used one of these things. However - the description of what the product does seems to be simple enough.

http://en.petzl.com/petzl/SportProduits?Produit=386



> I should be in Zion in a little over two weeks to do the
> Angel's Landing hike, I'll probably try and check out where
> this happened.

The Angels Landing hike is spectacular, although I didn't think it was quite as scary as advertised. Half Dome gets scary around the cables, but Angels Landing wasn't really all that bad since almost (just a few clearly exposed areas) no place did I sense that I was going to fall off the edge. Of course you can, but it didn't seem like it. You can see little dots where people are climbing up the edge. They've got chains in some areas for climbers to hang on to.



avatar Re: Zion National Park: Investigation Into Climbing Fatality
March 21, 2009 04:00PM
That picture makes it so I can't wait. I've heard the wind and weather in general can be quite unpredictable in the southwest at this time of year. Hope I get some good conditions to do some hiking, even if storms can make for good pictures depending on the location.
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