Q & A: How unusual was that climbing accident?

All of our books so far have dealt with outdoor recreation such as climbing in one way or another, and our primary audience has been hikers / climbers / outdoorsy people. With Diane’s novel, Faces, as well as Charlie’s memoir, Two Shadows, a number of non-climbers are now reading our books. And they have questions. We’ll tackle one of them here.

Q: In Faces, Jessica rappels off the end of the rope and falls. Is that a pretty unusual type of accident?
A: Unfortunately, no. In fact, it seems to be a particularly common accident related to climbing. And it’s usually a preventable accident.
As a person rappels (or abseils) down a rope, the rope passes through a device attached to their harness in a way that provides friction. With a typical rappel device, if the rope below the climber is pulled downward, that slows the rate of descent (more friction is applied to the system). Note Diane’s left hand position. To speed up, the climber might raise the rope away from her hip, which releases a little of the friction in the system.
But if a climber doesn’t notice that she is nearing the end of the rope, it might pass through her “brake hand” (Diane’s left hand in this case) before she has time to react. Once that happens, most of the friction in the system is released, and the rope will rush through the belay device before it’s possible to react. 
In the novel, Jessica was only about 10 feet off the ground, and was fortunate to not suffer even more serious injuries from the fall. Sadly, in real life a number of climbers who have rappelled off the end of their rope were not so lucky. The results can certainly prove fatal.
However, if knots are tied to the ends of the rope, even if the person fails to notice that they’re running out of rope, they are quite unlikely to fall when they hit those knots. They have some other problems to deal with, since they may be dangling far above any ledge or the ground, but that’s another story!
There are also some other safety precautions to avoid this common accident, but we don’t want to turn this into a rappelling manual.
By the way, in the novel, the rope was set up improperly, with one end falling far below the other, making it visually confusing to Jessica to see that there was a problem. This type of accident can also happen if the rope is just plain too short for the cliff. Someone didn’t do their homework (two ropes can be tied together for longer rappels). 
Be careful out there and check those knots!

Curious about the storyline of Faces? Here’s a sample from the early chapters of the book.

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