Summit County woman survives 30-foot drop in climbing accident

Sawyer D'Argonne
Summit Daily News
Rescue workers help to carry an injured woman to safety after she fell climbing at White Cliffs on Nov. 19, 2020.
Photo from Summit County Rescue Group

FRISCO — A local woman was seriously injured after falling while climbing last week, according to the Summit County Rescue Group.

On the afternoon of Nov. 19, a woman climbing at White Cliffs near Frisco with two other individuals ran out of rope and fell approximately 30 feet down a steep grade to the ground. The woman suffered serious injuries that were not life-threatening, according to rescue group spokesman Charles Pitman.

“This could have ended a lot more tragically than it did,” Pitman said. “She was fortunate it didn’t end up a fatality. … There were a lot of lessons learned for that climbing party, and I think for other climbers that hear about this and hopefully take some extra steps to be careful.”

The rescue group received a call that the woman had fallen at about 3 p.m. that day. The woman was climbing up a set bolted route with a person below belaying her when she fell. Pitman said typically climbers will make their way about 100 feet up the cliff to clip into protection, and begin making their way back down so the party can start trying different routes.

The rope apparently slipped through the belayer’s brake device, and the woman fell. Pitman said the group seemed to have underestimated the amount of rope they needed for the climb.

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“The problem was that protection they thought was 100 feet high was really more like 130 or 140 feet,” Pitman said. “Because the rope has to go from the bottom up to the protection and back down to the climber, they needed more than 200 feet of rope. They didn’t have that much. On the way down, as he was lowering her, the rope went through the brake device, and down she went.”

Pitman said the woman fell about 30 feet down a near-vertical slope, and that her helmet may have come off before she landed. Rescue workers were able to easily access the woman by the base of the cliff. Rescuers loaded her onto a litter and brought her back down the path to an ambulance over rocks and scree. She was later transported to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center.

Pitman said that climbing accidents are relatively rare in the area, but that recreationists should take note of the incident to prevent injuries in the future.

Typically, climbers tie a knot in the rope so that the knot would jam in the braking device to prevent anyone from falling.

Pitman encouraged others to practice some of the safety measures the rescue group takes for technical rescue missions. He said the rescue group will designate someone who didn’t help set up the rope apparatus to oversee the safety check before anyone begins to climb.

“We have one person whose whole purpose is to check every knot, make sure every carabiner is locked off, and the anchor is proper,” Pitman said. “Having one person that wasn’t involved in setting it up who checks the system is key. It’s how we operate, and most climbers do that. But it’s something everyone needs to get in the habit of doing.”


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