Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Harness Broke

Although an official investigation remains to be completed, it appears increasingly—shockingly—likely that a broken belay loop on Todd Skinner's harness caused his death while rappelling from Leaning Tower. Skinner's partner, Jim Hewett, is quoted extensively in an excellent article in today's San Francisco Chronicle. "[The harness] was actually very worn," Hewett told the paper. "I'd noted it a few days before, and he was aware it was something to be concerned about." The story continued, "Friends of Skinner said he had ordered several new harnesses but they hadn't yet arrived in the mail. On Monday's climb, Hewett said the belay loop snapped while Skinner was hanging in midair underneath an overhanging ledge."

Unbelievable. I spent the last two days refuting these rumors to friends who called to speculate about the cause of Todd's accident. No way a belay loop breaks, I said. No way Todd would be using an old, tatty harness—he was too experienced, too careful. He could get free harnesses! I still wonder if somehow the loop was compromised: cut on an edge or tainted with some corrosive substance. But I know this for sure: Like thousands of other climbers this morning, I'm headed down to the gear closet to have a look through my kit. I'm not assuming anything is "good enough" anymore.

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