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Rock Climber Dies After “Kayak Strap” Harness Breaks

The accident took place at the Parking Lot Wall at Rumney

Last Friday, crews from Rumney Fire Department, Rumney Police Department, Plymouth Fire Department, Warren/Wentworth Fire Department, Campton/Thornton Fire Department and Conservation Officers from Fish and Game were notified of a climbing accident at the Rumney Climbing Rocks on Buffalo Road.

Medical crews responded to the area and hiked the short distance to the base of the climbing rocks. Despite their efforts the man succumbed to his injuries at the scene.

The man, in his 60s, was climbing a route on the Parking Lot Wall known as the Dead Sea Equestrian.

Kristen Nielsen was climbing nearby with her partner when the accident happened. She reported about the accident on the Facebook page New England Climbs:

My partner and I were two climbs over from the climber who fell. I am very very sad to report that it was a fatality. We witnessed the fall, which was an initial fifty or so feet, followed by several bounces until he landed well below the base on a fallen tree. Many Rumney climbers, search and rescue, and other first responders worked hard to save him, with over fifty people involved in the rescue attempt and evacuation preparations.

While he was leading high up on Dead Sea Equestrian (5.7, PLWall), it seemed that what appeared to be his harness was sitting low and not very tight. His partner later explained during the rescue that the injured climber had forgotten his true harness and had fashioned one out of “kayak straps additionally secured with a leather belt”. It appeared that the makeshift harness broke along with the belt, leading to the fall when he requested a “take” 3/4 of the way up the climb. The climber was a male in his 60s who had been climbing for a number of years. He had, sadly, been offered a safer alternative by other climbers who saw him in the parking lot, but he opted to use his own straps and belt.

The obvious takeaway is that you should only ever use a UIAA certified harness. The abbreviation (UIAA) comes from its French name Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme, which stands for International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation. The international federation was founded to be in charge of researching and finding solutions to all problems related to climbing and mountaineering.

You can search the UIAA database to find if your gear is certified here.

Replacing old gear is as important as using certified equipment. Many climbers wait too long before purchasing a new harness and quickdraws.

In 2006, top climber Todd Skinner’s harness broke while he was on Leaning Tower with Jim Hewitt. He fell to his death.

Skinner’s grigri and locking carabiner were found still on the rope. His belay/rappel loop on his harness had broken, and was found at the base of the wall. The belay/rappel loop showed that it had worn nearly through.

Prior to the accident, the two climbers noticed the frayed loop, and according to Hewitt, the two were concerned about it. Read more about Skinner here.

Be safe out there and always be sure to double check your safeties.