Rope shear fear: could it happen to anyone?

Posted by Peter Burnside on 31/03/2017
Michele mid fall before the rope failed. Photo: Wild Country

After the unfortunate recent rope shear incident involving Michele Caminati, the BMC would like to highlight the dangers of rope failure and how everyone should be wary of it.

Michele’s accident

On Tuesday 28 March 2017, while attempting to repeat Elder Statesmen (HXS 7a) at Curbar for the cameras, a route he’d successfully headpointed the previous day, Michele Caminati fell, shearing the rope on the arête and subsequently striking his belayer before hitting the ground.

Emergency services were immediately called and paramedics were on site quickly along with Edale Mountain Rescue. Michele was taken to the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, where he was diagnosed with a broken wrist and broken heel bone and is still recovering, while his belayer sustained a concussion and was discharged that night.

Commenting on the incident, Michele said: “I went up in the European style, with only one 10mm rope and without a helmet. This time I fell off the crux and the rope, whilst getting tense, sheared off against the corner. I thought I would have been safe. Perhaps I could have used half ropes but the outcome could have been the same.”

Michele and Wild Country would like to thank the emergency services and Edale Mountain Rescue for their rapid response to the incident and professionalism in treating Michele following the accident.

The BMC would like to wish Michele a full and speedy recovery. Wanting to inform other climbers of the potential risks of climbing this route and the dangers of rope shearing, Michele has generously shared with us the footage below. 

WATCH: Michele's terrifying fall on BMC TV

What could have caused this?

In situations like this, we turn to Dan Middleton, BMC technical officer, to get an expert insight into the eccentricities of equipment:

“Rope failure is rare but can lead to catastrophe,” says Dan. “An edge doesn’t necessarily have to be sharp for it to break a rope in a fall: a rough edge and a relatively high fall factor can often be more than enough.”

“The sheath of a rope can easily rupture when the rope is dragged onto a rough edge of rock whilst moving at high speed. It’s even more likely when there’s a lot of tension in the rope, which is usually the case when there’s a high fall factor.”  

What can we learn?

“It’s wise to endeavour to keep your ropes from running over edges whenever possible. The resistance of ropes to cutting over an edge is primarily linked to the amount of material in the rope, so a fatter heavier rope with a high density in g/m2 is more likely to survive a given incident that a thinner, lightweight rope. Sometimes ‘fast and light’ can end up with you going faster than you bargained for; save your ultra-skinny ropes for icefalls and alpine routes,” says Dan

“Double ropes can offer redundancy. The UK trad tradition of using double ropes has the benefit of offering redundancy, but only if sufficient protection is clipped. Aim for at least one good piece of protection on each rope which is high enough to stop you hitting the ground. This isn’t always possible, or may leave you with terrible rope drag. As ever, it’s a judgement call.”


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1) Anonymous User
07/04/2017
What else can we learn?
Wear a helmet! He's a very lucky guy to have got away with only a broken wrist and heel bone.
2) Anonymous
24/04/2017
This comment broke the house rules and has been removed
3) Anonymous User
09/05/2017
I very nearly had a catastrophic fall involving rope-shear off the top pitch of Longlands Climb on Cloggy this weekend. I was on Mammut half ropes. My R.hand rope was in a good side runner just below, L.hand rope was protected lower still. I slipped on an innocuous move that I would normally do in my sleep. As the slack ran through the system my R.hand rope sheared sending me into space. L.hand rope caught round a flake and arrested my fall before involving the gear below. I then climbed out, much to the relief of my second! I was incredibly lucky and later discovered that L.hand rope had nearly sheared too. I don't know which bit of rock sheared my R.hand rope but I couldn't see anything particularly sharp which re-enforces the point made in this article.
In hindsight I should have protected the move even more than I did. Also, when faced with imminent death, your life does not flash before your eyes, you just think...OH! I have found typing this comment to be cathartic
Nick, Stafford.

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