What’s this about?
It’s an accident report about a “fall” from an abseil that resulted in a badly gashed hand, and the learning points out of it.
Tie a knot in the ab rope if you can’t see the bottom or if you know you will be close to the full ropes length
Don’t get blasé
Carry a first aid kit
Don’t leave your sandwich in someone else’s car if you are going to sit in casualty(ER)for over 3 hours
Where was it?
Map of the area
Wintour’s Leap, which is an old Victorian quarry overlooking the River Wye that separates Wales and England near Chepstow in South Wales.
Wintour's Leap. Wye Valley.This picture is taken from the English side of the river.
Bottom pitch of Zelda
Cherry Torrance and I climbed the first pitch of Zelda, while Scott Phillips and Beccy Athay climbed Greta. Each team was using a single rope. The routes share a belay station about 50 metres above the valley floor and both groups arrived there at about the same time.
Cherry didn’t fancy the top pitch of Zelda, so we swapped routes. However, Cherry also struggled a bit on the top pitch of Greta and after a spirited go at it, she eventually asked to be lowered back to the belay station. This left me at the top of the route, with two pieces of gear below me.
I scrambled higher and put the rope around a sturdy tree that was directly above the line of the gear. As I was still tied in, I simply clipped my descender to the free rope and abed down this, using the tree as my runner, with Cherry tied in to the bottom end. I know that running the rope around trees isn’t the best environmental solution, but it meant Cherry could stay tied in to the bottom of the rope until I could check she was safe.
As I passed Beccy, I told her I was sure she could abseil from the top of Zelda all the way down in one go. She found that hard to believe but I said I would be down myself in a minute and I could easily check her ropes reached the floor. My abseil was simple enough, with the gear coming out fine.
However, as I was nearing Cherry, I could see I would run out of rope and still be above the station. No problem, there is a good looking tree about two metres closer. I’ll get there, sort out the ropes and then crack on, I thought.
I checked Cherry was clipped into both pegs and was happy she could take the rope off. She shouted up that I was close to the end of the rope and was obviously concerned.
Just above the shared belay stance of Zelda and Greta
First Big Mistake.
I was blasé and knew the rope would easily reach the tree with my weight on it. I could easily have got Cherry to tie a knot in the free end, ensuring my system was locked and foolproof. I didn’t.
As I got to the tree, it was still slightly below me and to my left. With just a little twist of my body, I got a good grip with my left hand. My feet were on the ledge, albeit that my body was at a stretch. I just needed to take my right hand off the rope and I would be holding the tree, standing on the ledge and still on the ab rope, although not holding the rope at that time.
Second Big Mistake.
I’m quite comfortable with abseiling, even though I know many a good climber has come to grief during the process. Had I been more nervous or at least less blasé, I would have thought a bit more about what I was about to do. I didn’t.
As I let go of the rope, it released the stored energy my lardy arse had stretched into it. It shot out through the device so that although I was still tied in to my original end, it was effectively just a big piece of string running up and around the tree at the top, not attached to anything. For a split second, I was barely in control, (out of control?) with no safety net, over 50 metres from the ground.
I regained my composure with a super monster grip on the tree, and got my weight firmly over my feet. Not safe yet though. A small branch has obviously been pruned off the tree at some point, and this has left a small but solid little spur on the branch. As my weight swung around under the tree, the spur ripped through the heel of my left thumb, deep enough to reach muscle and about 3 to 4 cm long in a crescent shape. Ouch!
I clipped into the tree with a sling and checked my wound. It was bleeding freely and was flapping. Not too much pain and still good movement. Time to go though!
Cherry had obviously seen it and she tells me she thought she was watching a fatality taking place. I knew I needed a few sutures in the wound, so I shouted up a quick sitrep to the other two and started my “rescue.” I pulled the rope down and it fell in a big clusterfuck around me. I threw a free end to Cherry and after a bit of faffing with some tangles, I had the rope looped around the tree and belayed back to Cherry so I could climb across to her.
(But not so big
!) I forgot to keep an eye on Beccy’s ropes. You can
ab straight from the second pitch of Zelda all the way to the bottom. I’ve done it myself. However, I’ve always used two
ropes. Fair play to Beccy, she knew she had to keep a good look out and realised she had to set up an intermediate station. She was about 4 metres below us and another 4 out across the wall. We threw her our rope end and brought her up safely to our station.
My hand was still bleeding and was catching on the rope whenever I handled it. Whilst I wouldn’t carry a bandage on the route with me, one in my sack would have been useful. Had I cut something more “bleedy” it could have been a life saver. Beccy’s headscarf did a good enough interim job though.
Scott reset his ropes so he could ab directly down to us, and after a bit of cosy ledge work, we got safely down. I left a locking krab in place as the pegs were a bit crowded with four of us and the ropes. I nearly made mistake five as I considered retying the ropes after the others were down, to get the krab out of the system. It would have been easy enough to do, but of course in the gathering dark with a damaged hand, I could have ended up dropping the rope or something. Not worth it for a single piece of kit, and I reckon my crag swag total is in credit.
The draw of the “Rising Sun” pub was strong, but I guessed there would be long wait in casualty, so no time for a pint! Beccy and Scott got me and my car to the hospital at Newport where Mistake Five
took place. I threw my kit into my car, and although both Beccy and Scott were more than willing to stay with me, I insisted they had done enough and were to leave me to it. I left my bloody sandwiches in Scott’s car. They would have been useful for the three hour wait!
Four sutures later and a late drive home, I got to bed just after 04:00 am.
I’m typing this the next day with a wry smile. It could have gone very differently.
We kept our cool.
We rescued ourselves.
I’ve got more evidence for my “Shark” story.(I tell people my thumb was bitten off by a shark, you'd be suprised how many fall for it!)
Thanks to the team for all their help and good wishes. I owe you a beer!
A relatively minor injury in comparison to what could have happened!