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Totem Pole accident 15-Jul-2020 At 6:58:36 AM gassygal9000
Sorry for the 17 month delay... Better late than never, ey? Here's what happened:

We were climbing the Candlestick (not the totem pole, as the media assumed), a sea stack in the south of Tasmania. The route involves a rap in and swim across the channel to reach the stack. Getting off requires a Tyrolean traverse back to the mainland, and this is where the accident occurred.

We had climbed ďthe Corner RouteĒ which is a 4 pitch, grade 18 ( Corner Route ). We were generally less efficient than we had anticipated and despite making an early start, we did not start climbing until about midday. Whilst no particular part was super slow, the complexities of finding the descent, crossing the channel (with an exciting swim and uneventful tyrolean) and climbing in a party of 3, took longer than expected. By the time we finished the route we had about an hour and a half of daylight left. We experienced light rain and strengthening winds, but knew that the forecast predicted that conditions could deteriorate substantially as night set in. Whilst we had torches and warm clothes, we were still rushing to get back across.

Our first mistake was in deciding to use the higher anchor station, rather than the lower station as we had planned. There are two bolted anchor stations on the candlestick from which the tyrolean could be done (although some of our resources only mentioned one, so we were unsure). We had planned on using the lower station (which all resources agreed exists). Using this lower station would mean that the tyrolean traverse is uphill - this is what we had practiced for. In the morning we had tried to spot this lower anchor station whilst we were still on the mainland, but we couldnít see it. We could see a small ledge which we assumed it was on, but couldnít be sure. When it came time to set the tyrolean we were at the higher anchor station and lazily decided to just use this one rather than going looking for the lower one. It was appealing for two reasons. Firstly, because we knew where it was, and didnít have to rap into the unknown looking for the lower station. Secondly, we figured the downhill traverse would be easier and save us having to ascend the line so far.

The tyrolean was rigged for the first person, as shown. The tyrolean line (blue) was already fixed on the mainland, and was towed up the climb. It was tensioned and fixed at the candlestick side. The green line was trailed across, as it would be used to set the releasable tyrolean from the other side. The remaining (red) line was set as a normal 2-strand rappel line. The first person traversed across with a pulley, and ascender on the tyrolean line, and an ATC with prusik on the rap line.

After ~30m, the first person ran out of rap line - the traverse was longer than expected. Having found the traverse so far to be very slow, and the rap line to be a hindrance, they happily came off rappel, and instead put a backup prusik on the tyrolean line. Pulling along the line, and sliding the prusik behind them, they finished the traverse without issue. We should have realised it was >30m since we mustn't have had the halfway mark of the blue rope, but we didnít check. If we had noticed we could have replanned whilst we were all together and communication was easy. As it was, this replanning was performed with brief shouts, whilst the first person was still on the traverse.

Once the first person reached the other side safely, they rigged the releasable tyrolean for the other two party members to come across. They rigged it as a single tensioned loop, made from two joined ropes. One rope (blue) was fixed on the mainland side, goes across and through the bolts on the candlestick side. It was then tied to a second rope (green) which came back across to the mainland side. The second rope (and the whole loop), was tensioned and fixed at the mainland side. In retrospect, this was the wrong way to rig it. Tensioning the entire loop meant that both ropes were tight, and so neither rope could be used to rap on. Other rigging methods would allow you to have one line untensioned, which could be used to rappel on.

When it was realised that the rap line would not be long enough to rap all the way to the other side and pull it from there, it was (stupidly!) fully pulled across to the mainland and removed from play. The thought being that it wasnít necessary as the traverse had been so slow and the last little bit with just a prusik had been fine - too slow even. We should have left this line up and used it as 30m of rap line for the other people. If nothing else it would have left more options to work with.

When the second person came across they had no rap line, and only a prusik for backup (as pictured). They were weighting a pulley on one of the tensioned lines on the loop. In front of the pulley was a tibloc (for ascending what we had thought would be an uphill traverse). The prusik was mistakenly rigged in front of the pulley where it would be pushed along and not bite. A biner was clipped to the other tensioned line. They couldnít properly test the system because their safety wasnít long enough. By the time they realised the situation was critical they couldnít reverse. When they fully weighted the tyrolean the prusik slipped and they zipped downhill along the traverse to contact the wall on the mainland side. They sustained fractures to their left heel, coccyx, burst fracture of L2 and L3 vertebrae, 5 ribs and 6 transverse processes.

The final mistake was to have the third party member come across in a similar fashion after the accident. They used the same set up as the second person, but with the prusik behind the microtraxion. Whilst the prusik did not slip in this orientation, the descent was too steep to easily unweight it between movements as was the intention. The third person suffered rope burns to hands and legs.

The party was carrying an epirb, but there was also phone reception. The rescue was great. Thanks Tasy police rescue team <3

- Get professional instruction - donít learn your complex rope skills from a book / internet. We had all independently researched and practiced Tyroleans together on the ground and got it terribly wrong.
- For a downhill tyrolean you need speed control.
- A prusik is NOT speed control. If you drag it along the rope you risk melting the rope and it just doesnít work very well. A prusik is used to keep you in one position whilst you adjust other things.
- A prusik wonít catch if it is being pushed along.
- When someone has been hurt think really really carefully about the safety of others.
- Make sanity checks wherever possible. If you think the traverse should be <30m, check that you still have the middle marker of the rope.
- Donít pull your ropes until you need to. If we had left the red line up we would have had more options when it became apparent it was too steep.

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