Free-climbing pioneer Todd Skinner was killed on October 23, while descending fixed ropes on the Leaning Tower in Yosemite. Initial reports suggest that harness belay-loop failure may be to blame.
As American climbers are in shock over the loss of one of their most famous climbing pioneers, a news report in the San Francisco Chronicle suggests that his harness belay loop may have snapped during an abseil.
Failure of harness belay loops is extremely rare. However, as discussed and demonstrated at the recent BMC "Know Your Stuff" Technical and Training Conference, tape webbing is always susceptible to wear.
This is because the load bearing fibres of tape are on the surface, and not protected by an outer sheath like rope. In fact, every time a tape sling is abraded, it loses some of its strength. This was visibly demonstrated at the "Know Your Stuff" Conference. Two identical new tape slings were taken. One was nicked with a knife part way through, the other rubbed quickly against a brick wall. The sling with the knife cut looked the most damaged, but in fact failed at over its stated load. However the abraded sling had lost upto 30% of its strength almost immediately.
Remember: Your slings and other tape material (such as harnesses) are abrading from the moment they leave the shop. Keep a close eye on any suspect areas, and if you think that it might be time to replace an item of equipment - then it probably is.
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San Francisco Chronicle report