Incident:"In over head" in Seven Teacups 2017/10/08

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Incident:"In over head" in Seven Teacups 2017/10/08
Date 2017/10/08
Location Seven Teacups
Severity No loss
Canyoneering-related Yes
SAR involvement No
Navigation problem No
Environmental problem Yes
Communication problem No
Planning problem No
Skills problem Yes
Body movement problem No
Rigging problem No
Rappel problem Yes
Insufficient gear No
Gear failure No


New canyoneer to class C gets "in over his head" in the Corkscrew rappel, May have had brake hand rope entanglement issues


Willie Hunt

This trip to 7TC was a first time class C experience for one of the 6 party members. I was manning the Corkscrew rappel anchor on a short tether to the top bolt. I had each member swim to me positioned as to not get sucked over the waterfall, I attached a tether, made sure each got rigged for rappel properly and lock off (or high friction setting), brake hand rope around back and down at legs (everyone is right handed), I removed the tether, each swung around and rappelled. This work fine for everyone getting onto rappel without having issues getting disconnecting from the station in the moderate-high water flow once over the waterfall lip. All members did fine rappelling except one, who spent an awful long time on this short rappel. I monitored the rope tension, and kept feeling it release significantly in spurts as the member made rappel progress. I was ready to release the contingency figure 8 block if I detected that progress had stopped. I did not want to lower him unless necessary because this would add extra rope in the pool and thus the swimming disconnect could become much harder with a tangled mess of extra rope. As the rope was set, there was only a few extra feet, which we should have reset to zero, but no one that went down signaled to me to raise the rope slightly. I had another member at the bottom watching each rappeler (spotter) and he could arm signal me if he saw an issue with the rappeler, since I could not see anything from the top. I raised my arms in question once, and he signaled OK, although I could tell my spotter was intently watching the situation. I don’t think this took much more than a minute, but it was concerning never the less.

The member made the pool, disconnected, swam across teacup #4 and climbed up onto the rock slab with everyone else. I was LMAR, tossed the pull side way out with a float, another grabbed it, rapped without issue, climbed out on the slab where all 6 were taking a short break, and all seemed to be good. But all was not OK, as the member that had taken so long to rappel was freaked out from being “in over his head” as his first class C experience. Even being a solid class B canyoneer did not prepare him for the water pounding, issues breathing in the waterfall, wet swimming disconnect in an aerated pool, the cold water, and difficult climb out of the pool. He was simply “shut down”, had “greatly exceeded his comfort zone”, and was not talking. When we finished the break and we started moving again he just sat there. Once moving he was excessively hesitant to even move down the dry rock slab. I was already all the way down at teacup #6, since it’s just walking and sliding down to that point (no rope work). I watched as others helped him verbally down the slab and there was extensive discussion once down to the escape exit. The decision was made without my involvement (since I was physically too far away, but watching) that he and his girl-friend would exit the canyon via the easy escape route. The remaining 4 decided that we would continue the 7TC descent, and we had no further issues.

There was also some indication after all members were back to civilization, that he may have had the brake hand side rope tangled in his backpack, and this would have caused slow progress on rappel. I could not confirm this, but this does bring up an issue. In strong waterfall force, it is often easier and safer to toss most or all the packs down drops after 2 or 3 members are in the pool below to retrieve them. I did not think about suggesting this for this drop, even though this is how we did this on my only previous trip to 7TC. If in fact he did have rope backpack entanglement, that would explain much about his slow rappel progress. Tossing packs down would have solved that problem. Also for those new to class C waterfalls, removing the backpack from the equation is extremely helpful.

BOTTOM LINE: Even though 7TC is considered a “beginner” class C canyon, it really is a very serious transition from class B canyons where often water falls are like a garden hose being sprayed down on the rappeler. It’s a totally different game when even a couple CFS is pounding you on rappel, pulling hard on your body, making it difficult to breath, and the swimming difficult in the pool at the bottom. Do not underestimate the phycological effect this can have on beginners to Class C.

Kelly Morr

For the record, it was my boyfriend who had the issue in the corkscrew rap.*

I think the biggest thing I will take away from this is to make sure the group knows how to communicate. Our party had no clear leader -- I organized the trip, Willie had more swiftwater experience, and Joe had run Teacups most recently. However I don't think any of us truly embodied a leader. I had printed and distributed paper beta in ziplock bags to all members (contrary to what was stated in the original post) but wasn't actively referring to it during the trip, as others seemed to have "taken charge." Joe was giving advice on where we could jump/where anchors were. And Willie was the LMAR.

However at no point did any of us gather the group and make sure we were clear on signals, or make sure everyone understood what unique challenges we'd face. (Rather, this was inconsistent; info was communicated really well on the first jump, but not so much on the corkscrew rap).

I don't think anyone is to blame for this -- we were a ragtag group assembled from the internet! I don't think there was anything fundamentally wrong with the beta. I don't think any individual failed in a responsibility. I don't even think anyone was "in over their head" in terms of skill level. (Some of us were new to class C, sure, but what caused the incident* had little to do with skill. And could have been much more quickly remedied with better communication.)

What I've learned from this is that even if I'm not the most technically experienced, I can and should still step into a leadership roll and ensure that we all understand each other and know how to work together to solve problems. And if I don't know the other people in my group well, I should make doubly sure I'm educating myself by reading beta and practicing techniques before I leave.


  • In case you care, having talked to my BF a lot about this, what I can piece together is he got stuck and was unable to continue lowering himself, right on the part of the rap where the water flow is the strongest. This may have been caused by a rope caught between his back and his pack, but it's unclear (I saw it there as he was getting on rap and tried to get BF & Willie's attention but didn't; I didn't realize this was such a tough rap and figured BF could easily correct once on rap. My fault for not reading the beta and not making a bigger deal of what I saw). Getting stuck caused BF to get flipped forward, and with the pressure of the water, it was almost physically impossible for him to right himself (possibly made worse by having shoes that were not gripping the wet rock at all). He waved to those already down to try to signal his distress, but they either didn't see or didn't understand what he was trying to say. (I was still at the top and could not see anything.)