Carabiner accidentally opens after swing during a climb

Phil

Branched out member
Location
Oak Lawn, IL
I was helping teach a climbing class a few days ago. The tree we selected for a work climb skills scenario was a hackberry with fairly large low limbs which would allow easy communication at regular speaking volume. Think large branches 10' off the ground. Nothing crazy but still challenging enough for beginners. During a mock work climb, the climber, who was inexperienced with climbing, attempted a limb walk. Was pretty awkward but managed to reach the bell but was facing away form the TIP on the wrong side of the limb. During the return limb walk, due to the climbers poor position, he "fell off the limb". In reality he was skating down the side of it rather than "walking" as an experienced climber would. There was no immediate danger of anything other than wasting a lot of energy which would serve a good learning purpose post climb. The climber ended up letting go of the branch and sort of swinging back into the tree unexpectedly. The swing was only like 10 feet and he landed fine with both feet on the trunk of the tree. Since the swing was not intended, the climber reacted by just grabbing the rope/hardware in front of his face for stability as is a natural human reaction. I was keeping a close eye on the entire climb and once the climber stabilized after his return swing, I noticed the carabiner attaching his climbing rig to his bridge ring was open and the rope itself was pinched between the crab nose and the gate, preventing the gate from auto closing/locking. I 100% know this carabiner was closed and locked and fully functioning prior to this climb. I stopped the climber immediately, informed him of the situation, gave instructions to remove the rope from the gateway, check the carabiner, and finish the climb with a decent to the ground. He was low enough that I could reach up and touch his feet just to give an idea of proximity allowing me to be able to see his climbing hardware.

After looking everything over, the only logical explanation I can come up with is that during the unexpected swing, the climber grabbed the connecting carabiner with his right hand. this would place his fingers over the gate. Since the carabiner was oriented with the nose down, gate to the left, this means the motion to open it was down, twist counterclockwise, push in. That is the natural motion his fingers would have made during the swing and subsequent impact when he landed. The rope happened to be between his fingers and the gate so when he rolled the gate open, the rope was right there to be pushed in to the gateway. The spring action of the gate pinched the rope there.

Configuration:
Hitch climber pulley, VT hitch, single carabiner connected to a bridge ring. Carabiner in question was a DMM PerfectO.

These pictures are just a mock up of the scenario. Not the actual hardware. Once we inspected the PerfectO the climber used, it was indeed fully functional, but when oriented with nose down and gate to the left, it was extremely easy to repeatedly open the gate with our right hand by essentially squeezing our fingers into a fist while applying a slight downward motion.

This was a freak occurrence but one which I can see being easily repeatable in an uncontrolled swing/emergency situation. Possible mitigations for this are to keep the nose oriented up. One can also use a crab with a quad gate or a gate that needs slid away from the nose like the ones Rock Exotica sells.

I personally have my hardware oriented this same way to allow for easy on/off if I want to pass my rig over a limb. I will be reconsidering this orientation.
 

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Reach

Been here a while
Location
Atglen, PA
Wow, that could have been exciting! Glad no one got hurt, and that you have a plausible for how it happened.

One word of caution on the quad lock biners - in the right circumstances, they can be opened in only one motion, like a simple twist lock.
 

Mowerr

Branched out member
Location
Ny
It's weird if this is true but I remember reading somewhere on here that a bunch of different gate opening configs were tested to see which ones would open and how easily they would open just by moving rope over their gates.

If my memory serves me well then I think they concluded that the petzl ball locks never opened in their tests.
 

Dan Cobb

Branched out member
Location
Hoover
Thanks for sharing the excellent write up of this incident and taking the time to stage the equipment for clear photos. I will be evaluating my setup for the same scenario as I also use a PerfectO on my bridge.
 

Mowerr

Branched out member
Location
Ny
When inexperienced climbers are off the ground they tend to not notice or hear little things like a carabineer gate opening....I know when I was getting Into climbing I would sometimes look down at my system and see things not oriented correctly or slightly out of alignment and be surprised bc everything felt right but I was too focused on other things.

Once I got more Comfy off the ground and learned a couple tricks to avoid these mihaps, I never have orientation issues.

There's so many things and combos of things that could cause this.

I think guys with small experience should maybe use snaps or captive eye biners and whatever else they offer to help insure their life support systems components orientation.
 

evo

Been here a while
Location
My Island, WA
Whoa, good learning experience! I’ve had gates open on me a few times. It’s a bit harder when loaded with body weight as they do slightly stretch with. Keylock style gates open a little harder when loaded. Both when loaded might not close if opened!
part of training should be two major points, DO NOT GRAB HARDWARE OR HITCH WHEN SURPRISED!. It’s instinctive to grab and grab harder when felling out of control when at height (even driving). This reaction in very health but not so much in climbing. Gates or hardware can indecisively be opened or cross loaded. Hitches can be there engaged resulting in a near panic free fall. Just try to remember the early days of being a rockstar and burning out on a swinging landing.
 

TheTreeSpyder

Participating member
Location
Florida>>> USA
One of first lessons is not to grab hitch etc.; drill that instinct(good word) out.
Many things can do instinctively right;
but make list of those that are counter-intuitive , fool the eye;
as an emergency over-rule eye before hand off to brain list.
.
i think of eye as having faster/lesser computer to sift out immediate danger that could squash you by time brain figured out.
Thus eye-brain can be fooled by film industry, sleight of hand, optical illusions, friction in arc, GRABBING THE RELEASE FUNCTION etc.
Find and drill your counter-intuitives of normal or personal paradigm; so that you rule them; not the other way around !
.
Also, part of get good gear, deploy correctly and trust it.
Going to say took about a decade of hard air time to lay into ropes Naturally like relaxed backfloat w/o a worry, floating; much less of a sphincter exercise vs. fighting to tread water, stay afloat; Helluva a L-earning curve!
.
Have a fave shirt "Keep Calm, and Climb On"; pertains to many, many things; especially it's own subject matter.
 

Naturarbo

New member
Location
South Portugal
Wow, that could have been exciting! Glad no one got hurt, and that you have a plausible for how it happened.

One word of caution on the quad lock biners - in the right circumstances, they can be opened in only one motion, like a simple twist lock.
quad lock would be something like the Austrialpin?
 

Reach

Been here a while
Location
Atglen, PA
quad lock would be something like the Austrialpin?
Not exactly, this is the one I am referencing: https://www.gaparboristsupply.com/DMM-Ultra-O-Durolock/item/A324

If you can get your hands on the green inner sleeve of the gate, and turn it, the biner will open right up. A stick in the right place will do it easily, I think, and that sleeve requires a simple twist to open the gate.
 

kludge

New member
Location
Eastern PA
I would like to echo what a couple of guys said here. It’s important to habituate grabbing the lines far enough above the hardware and descender when unstable, surprised, etc. that you don’t actuate any of your devices. There is a lot that can go wrong including uncontrolled decent and free falling when you get a death grip on your decenders, hitches, or hardware. I think this is an essential mitigation for the problem you encountered plus a few others that could happen as well.
 

climbstihl

Branched out member
Location
Germany
quad lock would be something like the Austrialpin?
That carabiner has a huge design flaw, I feel safer on a simple twistlock than that thing. It can very easily happen that while opening it you continue to twist he locking sleeve, turning it into its "locked" position with the gate still open. This prevents the gate from closing at all. IMG_20210626_233211.jpg
 

Dan Cobb

Branched out member
Location
Hoover
This makes me feel better about having so many screw gate carabiners. I still like to use quick links for some critical applications.
 

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