A tragedy occurred last week in West Virginia where a rock climber died apparently due to a human factors issue with her gear. This text comes from a commenter on Rockclimbing.com:
The climber was Karen Feher from Midlothian Va. She climbed to the anchor of Rico Suave and clipped in direct. Her setup: She had two thin dyneema slings girth hitched to her harness. At the end of each sling was a locking carabiner held in place with a rubber Petzl keeper…She clipped a locker to each bolt and probably called off belay. I’m unclear if she was going to rappel or lower. It doesn’t matter. She fell to the ground.
The day after the accident a local climber named Craig (last name?) climbed to the anchor and found a locker on each bolt with a Petzl String still affixed to each one. Both Petzl strings were torn on the side.
Let me give a little background on the gear so you can understand what seems to have happened:
Climbers can affix themselves to the wall with equipment that has carabiners on both ends. This allows them to clip themselves to one side and clip the other to the wall. These can come in different varieties, and two types are illustrated below.
The first type consists of a sewn sling between the two carabiners. It is sewn tightly in multiple places to make sure that it holds tightly to the two carabiners.
Notice on one side it is sewn so the carabiner hangs loosely and on the other side it is sewn tightly, so that it holds the carabiner almost immobile. The reason for this is to allow the side connected to the wall to swing freely as the rope moves, which keeps the rope movement from jarring or upsetting protection put into the rock. The other end that is connected to the rope keeps the carabiner from moving around and possibly turning sideways.
The second type (below) consists of a nylon sling doubled over between the carabiners. The benefit of this kind of sling is that it can be changed in length – by doubling and tripling it, it can either be 4′ long, 2′ long, or just a foot long. However, notice both sides are the same. The benefit of having one loose side and one tight side does not exist here. Incidentally, this is the type of sling I use almost exclusively.
There is one way to turn the second type of sling into an approximation of the first type: a rubber band. Not only can you do this with a plain rubber band, there are some specifically sold for this purpose.
The problem with this solution lies in the changes to visibility and function that the rubber bands can have when the slings are doubled-over incorrectly. Click here for a video explaining what can go wrong.
The additional component to the tragedy that prompted this post is that both of her slings were attached only by the rubber band. Climbers build redundancy into their systems to prevent accidents like this, but here both failed.