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Simul-Rappel Accident Leads to Washington Climber Death

Shelby Withington of Bellingham, Washington, took a 200-metre fall after a simul-rappel went bad on May 29.

The 20-year-old man was a student at Western Washington University and a member of the school’s climbing team, but their climb was not a team event.

He was on a route called Sisyphus on the Goat Wall with three other climbers when the accident occurred around the seventh pitch, top of the route, in the morning.

Sisyphus on Goat Wall. Photo Cascade Climbers

During their simul-rappel, one climber reached the lower ledge first and when he stopped the counterbalance system, the rope slipped through his device.

A lower climber attempted to grab the rope, but the rope ripped through his hands and injured them. Climbers at the base of the route heard screams and called 911. A Navy helicopter was called to help recover Withington from where he landed.

The other climbers range from 21 to 27 and all four climbers had climbed together before. Sisyphus is a 300-metre bolted 5.11a and a popular weekend outing.

Over the past decade, two other climbers died on a route called Prime Rib in the same area on different occasions.

Simul-rappelling is dangerous and has led to a number of deaths over the past few years. If you are going to do it, be sure to use prussiks and knot the end of your ropes. It is considered an advanced skill and the margin for there is almost no margin for error.