The death of 12-year-old Tito Traversa, an Italian who climbed multiple 5.14s, shocked the community in early July—not just because of the tragic loss of a young life, but also because of the almost unbelievable way it happened. While warming up at a crag in France, Traversa borrowed a set of quickdraws from another member of his group. Unbeknown to the young climber, the draws had been assembled incorrectly: On eight separate quickdraws, the biners had not been threaded through the sewn strength-rated loop in the end of the dogbone, but only through the rubber “string” used to keep clipping biners from flipping out of position. When Traversa weighted the rope, these draws failed, sending him into a ground fall that led to his death.
Three Incorrect Quickdraw Setups:
The rubber piece hides the nylon or Dyneema end of the dogbone, and only a pull-test will reveal whether the biner is properly inserted into the webbing. Try to pull the biner off the dogbone; if it is connected correctly, it will hold. If not, the dogbone will come right out.
The biner is through just the rubber inside the dogbone, not the webbing itself. Give it a thorough visual inspection so you know the biner is through the webbing and the rubber.
The non-strength-rated rubber keeper connects the strength-rated dogbone and the carabiner. Always assemble so the biner is directly through the webbing.
Simple Gear Checks
Quickdraws and carabiners Visually inspect each draw to make sure it’s assembled correctly, the webbing is undamaged and has not faded, and there is no sharp groove worn into the rope cradle of the biners. (Such edges can cut a rope in a fall.) Locking biners should operate smoothly and lock securely. If you see any significant visible scars or cracks, it’s time to retire the biner to keychain duty.
Rope Run your hands along the full length as you flake, massaging the cord between your fingers to feel for soft spots or cuts that might reveal a damaged core.
Tied slings or cordelettes Make sure the water knots in tied slings are tight and have at least two inches of tail on both strands of the webbing (climbing.com/water-knot). Ditto for the double fisherman’s knot in a tied cordelette.
Pro Watch out for cams with frayed trigger cables: A broken cable could render the unit impossible to place or remove.
Partner check Checking knots, belay setups, harnesses, and gear may save your partner’s life—and your own. Adults climbing with children bear extra responsibility. No matter how talented or strong a young climber might be, many teenagers and younger climbers do not have the same experience and maturity level as adults. As Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou, a longtime kids’ climbing coach and mother of two young 5.14 climbers, says, “I think any climber could have made Tito’s mistake if he weren’t really checking past the harness and knot. Kids and adults should have the same safety checks, and we all need to step it up a few notches after this tragic accident.”
Tragic and True
Each of the following seemingly inconceivable errors has led to multiple accidents, sometimes with fatal consequences.
1. Failing to complete tie-in knot—often the result of distraction while tying in or cleaning. 2. Clipping belay/rappel device or anchor tether to a harness gear loop instead of the full-strength belay loop. 3. Threading bight of rappel rope through device and clipping locking carabiner through it, but then failing to clip locker and device to belay loop. 4. Loading rope backward in a Grigri, resulting in drastically reduced braking power. 5. Threading the long tail of a tie-in knot through rappel device instead of main strand of the rope.