Incidents:Death in Salamander Canyon

Jump to: navigation, search
Death in Salamander Canyon
Date 2018/03/17
Location Salamander Canyon
Severity Fatality
Canyoneering-related Yes
SAR involvement Yes
Navigation problem No
Environmental problem No
Communication problem No
Planning problem No
Skills problem No
Body movement problem No
Rigging problem Yes
Rappel problem No
Insufficient gear No
Gear failure No


Joy Welling fell while rappelling the large waterfall because the rope released from the figure 8 block rigged by her partner. About 10 ft of tail remained behind the figure 8 block, and it apparently pulled through the figure 8 block dropping Joy. The failure was not observed by Joy's partner, so it is not known exactly how the block failed. The figure 8 block was reported not to have had a "twist" nor a safety carabiner through the small eye of the figure 8.


  • The rigging just before it failed. Crop of a GoPro frame taken by the partner.
  • "close up of rigging on a different trip. (person is not the partner)".
  • Analysis

    Accidental untie

    Because there was no safety carabiner to prevent the second loop of the figure 8 block from coming off, movement of the rope during rappel may have caused the second loop to fall off leaving just one pass through the figure 8 as friction. This would have led the rope to pass through the block fairly quickly after the second loop came off.

    Block release

    Some figure 8 block variations can release (allow the rope to slide through them) if the figure 8 is pulled away from the quick link. This is because the quick link works with the figure 8 to pinch the rope in the desired way, and that pinch sometimes fails to happen if the figure 8 block is not up against a quick link. See the video below for a more detailed explanation. If the rope shifted while Joy was on rappel, the edges of the figure 8 may have been caught on a rock feature causing the rope to release.

    Preventative measures

    The primary lesson of this accident appears to be that unprotected short tails on contingency anchors should be avoided. This lesson did not appear to be common knowledge among canyoneers at the time of the incident (see SoCal Canyoneering discussion). There are a few specific possible preventative measures in addition:

    Always use safety carabiner

    If the cause of the accident was that the second loop came off the figure 8 block, then attaching a safety carabiner to the small eye of the figure 8 and to the pull rope would have likely prevented that loop from coming off.

    NOTE: A safety biner would NOT prevent the failure in the above video, where the ropes slides through the 8 (at 3:30) rather than popping off the loop. These are two different types of failures on the figure 8 block.

    Use a capturing twist

    In some variations of the Figure 8 block, a high-tension strand passes over a low-tension strand preventing the rope from slipping even if the carabiner is separated from the quick link. If the cause of the accident was the figure 8 and quick link separating (as in the above video at 3:30), using a capturing twist would likely have prevented the accident. The capturing twist can make the block more difficult to release however, and therefore should not be used in all situations (specifically situations where timely release is essential, like a strong waterfall).

    Stopper knot

    When the tail of a contingency block is short (as it was in this case), putting a stopper knot in its end should prevent the rope from pulling all the way through as it did in this accident.

    Tie ropes together before rappelling

    If using a short-tailed contingency block, an alternative to tying a stopper knot is simply to tie the retrieval rope to the short tail before rappelling.