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Fatal accident at Gunks in November, Cam broke
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overthehillclimber


Jan 25, 2005, 7:30 PM
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Fatal accident at Gunks in November, Cam broke
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In early November, my best friend and climbing partner died after falling about 30 feet from the crux of Boston (5.4+ or 5.5, PG) at the Gunks. A cam placed two or three feet below the point from which he fell failed (broke). The next pro was at about 15 feet and was too low to keep him off the ground. He was wearing a helmet, but main injuries were below the helmet.

The cam, a Cassin #1 “Joss” model SLCD was placed in a rough, nubbly crack/pocket. Two cam lobes broke off the axle; all four lobes show substantial scraping and smashing of material. The climber was light, the fall factor was low. Why did the cam break? The Joss model has been discontinued by Cassin in favor of their newer CanCam series. The material in the lobes of the cam that broke was identified by metallurgical analysis as a die cast alloy that is rather brittle compared with newer alloys. To pass UIAA specifications, cams need only be tested in the type of placement and direction of pull for which they are designed. They are not required to be tested in other types of placements, or pulled at other angles. A cam made of a more ductile material would be somewhat tolerant of deviations from designed placement and angle of pull, because the lobes will deform substantially before breaking. But the alloy in this cam would deform only slightly before breaking, making it vulnerable to failure under bending or twisting forces on the lobes.

I have emailed Cassin, but have so far been unable to verify what alloy the Joss was supposed to be made of. Assuming that the material in the lobes was that specified, then my tentative assessment is as follows: There is little or no evidence that the material was substandard nor damaged in advance of the accident, although neither possibility can be ruled out. It appears likely rather that unusual characteristics of the placement—very hard rock, sharp nubbles, strange shape—caused the lobes of the cam to be loaded one or two at a time, possibly in directions for which they were not designed, imparting twisting or bending forces primarily to a single lobe of the cam. The brittleness of the material then resulted in the failure of the lobe because the material was unable to deform sufficiently to spread the load to other lobes before it broke. Following breakage of one lobe, failure was progressive. A second lobe took most of the load, again probably as a bending or twisting force, exacerbated by the absence of the first lobe. The second lobe broke. The remaining two lobes nearly held, but finally pulled through, lacking the opposing forces and the cam stops from the two broken lobes.

A contributing factor was his not backing up a life-critical piece of protection. The reputation of the climb, that there is no protection from 15 feet until just below the crux may have contributed.

Even in a bomber placement, a cam can break if it is not loaded evenly.


karlbaba


Jan 25, 2005, 8:06 PM
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Re: Fatal accident at Gunks in November, Cam broke [In reply to]
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It's gotta hurt to lose your best friend. I'm sorry for your great loss.

Peace

Karl


powen


Jan 25, 2005, 8:13 PM
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Re: Fatal accident at Gunks in November, Cam broke [In reply to]
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I'm very sorry to hear about your loss. Thank you for taking the time to post this and hopefully help the rest of us out.

Please keep us posted if you have anymore information related to this incident, or if you hear of other suspected cam failures... I hope some others chime in with their experiences and knowledge of cam design and metallurgy etc... Reading over your post, you definitely seem to have some knowledge in this area...

I myself assumed a well placed cam in a pocket or horizontal would be relatively safe... I ignored the possible implications of the exact shape of the pocket, and the contact of all the lobes combined with the actual construction materials... I always thought that the UIAA testing was a catch-all. Stupid me. That will be a thought going forward for sure... Looks like I need to read up on how the tests on cams are conducted.

Again, my deepest condolences...


tradrenn


Jan 25, 2005, 8:21 PM
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Re: Fatal accident at Gunks in November, Cam broke [In reply to]
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:cry:


powen


Jan 25, 2005, 8:25 PM
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Re: Fatal accident at Gunks in November, Cam broke [In reply to]
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In reply to:
I am so sorry about your los. I just hate hearing about climbers that died or did get injured but i still have to ask why didn't you buy BD or FRIENDS live is just not worth $100 or $200 not even a millinon buks. I climb lead trad for about 2 years, but I haven't heared of this cams but for sure I will spread the word thruout my climbibg friends so they wont do the same mistake and loose their life as your friend did.

Well, really, the question that I'm hoping is answered isn't why someone did or did not buy a certain brand of cam, but would the well-known cams (BD etc) have the same faults in these types of placements or not? Perhaps someone can clarify as to the type of metals used, and the testing processes for the different products on the market...


dirtineye


Jan 25, 2005, 9:34 PM
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Re: Fatal accident at Gunks in November, Cam broke [In reply to]
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FYI those precious BD cams were once made of a more brittle alloy, sporting thinner lobes as well.

It's hard to come to grips with any piece failing in the way described, in only a two or three foot fall.

YOu have my sympathies.


billcoe_


Jan 25, 2005, 10:15 PM
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Re: Fatal accident at Gunks in November, Cam broke [In reply to]
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In reply to:
I have emailed Cassin, but have so far been unable to verify what alloy the Joss was supposed to be made of.


That's not right.



Are you saying that perhaps they don't know? Or they have not answered you? Surely they do not stamp them out of metal found in the dumpster out back? That is not the way even non-life threatening products are made. They are designed with a specification put on a print after serious design review. The material has a certification and tests which can be traced back to the origonal mill run. I wonder if they fear being sued?



It has to hurt bad to lose a friend. I wish you well.


collegekid


Jan 25, 2005, 11:55 PM
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Re: Fatal accident at Gunks in November, Cam broke [In reply to]
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Sorry for your loss.

I'm sure that the company is very afraid of a lawsuit...afterall, this IS America, where you have the right to sue anyone for almost anything.

Seems to me that the only way the company would be at fault is if they knew about a defect in the product and failed to order a recall or warning....but then again, climbing is dangerous and nothing is guaranteed.


kman


Jan 26, 2005, 12:13 AM
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Re: Fatal accident at Gunks in November, Cam broke [In reply to]
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Sorry to hear about your loss and thank you for posting informative information regarding this unfortunate event. It is appreciated.


adnix


Jan 26, 2005, 2:51 AM
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Re: Fatal accident at Gunks in November, Cam broke [In reply to]
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In reply to:
They are designed with a specification put on a print after serious design review. The material has a certification and tests which can be traced back to the origonal mill run.
Climbing equipment is tested in a different manner than most safety equipment. Climbing equipment is rated only 3 sigma which means 99,9% will hold the promised strength. Two out of 1000 will not hold it.

Sure, they could be made unbreakable but then they are of no climbing use. Too heavy for one thing. This is why any biner will brake if you load it over an edge. Biners could be made out of steel which equals they wouldn't brake in such situation. But nobody buys steel biners since they are too heavy. It seems pretty evident aluminium cams have the same "defect".


climbinganne


Jan 26, 2005, 4:18 AM
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Re: Fatal accident at Gunks in November, Cam broke [In reply to]
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this saddens me to read of the loss of your friend

i hope you find peace

my heart goes out to you, his friends and family


Partner wormly81


Jan 26, 2005, 4:26 AM
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You can be assured that your friend will be remembered each time I walk past the uberfall.

My most sincere condolences.

Jeff


smearhound


Jan 26, 2005, 5:19 AM
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I am very sorry for your loss. I cannot possibly imagine how difficult it is to lose a friend and a partner.

I am glad that you posted your message. I did not know that UIAA certification only tests protection for the direction of pull for which it is designed. This has enlightened me and, perhaps, will prevent a similar tragedy from befalling myself or someone else reading your post. You have taken something terrible and made into something productive. Thank you. I know that route and will think of you each time I pass it.

I hope that this new year will offer the opportunity for you to find some peace.


mheyman


Jan 26, 2005, 5:58 AM
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Re: Fatal accident at Gunks in November, Cam broke [In reply to]
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I too am sorry for your loss.

I would like to ask why it has taken this long to hear about the equipment failure. This accident occurred months ago, I have personally directed people paying their respects to the base of Boston, and talked with them. Why has no one said anything till now? Equipment failure is not generally taken lightly in the climbing community even though we understand that there are no guarantees.

Again I am sorry for your loss. as Jeff wrote, "you can be assured that your friend will be remembered each time I walk past the uberfall."


shakylegs


Jan 26, 2005, 10:16 AM
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Boston is an evil, ugly route, from which I had no shame of backing off. I'm sorry for your loss.


Partner gunksgoer


Jan 26, 2005, 11:25 AM
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hate to hear of stuf like that happening, my condolences

the day it happened a few guys i know from the gym were there toproping 2 routes over from boston, and saw it happen. it was their first time climbing outside, and they were somewhat traumatized.


mtnbkrxtrordnair


Jan 26, 2005, 11:31 AM
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My partner and I were walking down to the Uberfall past the top of Boston minutes after your friend was evacked. We were hoping he would be alright. I was deeply saddened to learn later in the week that he didn't make it. Please accept our sincere condolences.

Also, please post on Gunks.com

Mike


gunked


Jan 26, 2005, 2:39 PM
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I am very sorry for your loss and my heart goes out to you and his friends and family and all who witnessed the event.

My suggestion to you is to send the cam to BD's testing facility. As far as I know, nobody tests stuff more than they do. Off of the top of my head, I forget the name of the guy who does the testing, but he's been doing it for years.

I've lead Boston and agree with the fact that's it's ugly and a bit evil as a rock climb. It's a lot nicer when it's iced over. Not to mention a bit easier.

I hope you find the answers that you're looking for and if their's a heaven, you're buddy is soloing a 10 pitch 5.7 in the remote Sierra's with a pint of Guinness waiting for him on the summit being served by a.....


-Jason


eastvillage


Jan 26, 2005, 2:52 PM
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This such a terrible accident, I'm very sorry for you and your partners loved ones.
It sounds like this cam basically disintegrated from a relatively small fall factor fall. Very scary.


crimpandgo


Jan 26, 2005, 3:07 PM
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This truely is a sad event. This thread is a great reminder that gear is not unbreakable. It does not matter if its Cassin or BD. Every piece of gear has a remote possibility of catastrophically failing. Use redundancy wherever possible no matter how many people try to convince you its not necessary.

Just a question aside. A few of the posts have referred to the route as "evil" . I take that as meaning hard? The original poster stated the climb was a 5.4/5.5. Is this route underrated? or is it just a wierd route that causes lots of trouble? If misrated should guide books be updated to reflect its difficulties?


adamd


Jan 26, 2005, 3:18 PM
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I too was climbing in the Gunks that day and the next weekend met one of the first climbers on the scene at the top of Three Doves. What a terrible accident and reminder of the risks we all take. What can you say but best wishes for his friends and family.


Partner wormly81


Jan 26, 2005, 3:31 PM
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In reply to:
Just a question aside. A few of the posts have referred to the route as "evil" . I take that as meaning hard? The original poster stated the climb was a 5.4/5.5. Is this route underrated? or is it just a wierd route that causes lots of trouble? If misrated should guide books be updated to reflect its difficulties?

The reason that people refer to it as an "evil" piece of rock is because of the protection available. Its not whether its a 5.4 or 5.5, its whether its PG or R (in sections its offwidth and other sections bigger)... Its few and far between that someone leads Boston. There are many better, longer, more well protected climbs at that grade to be on. The problem is that its a very easy climb to find because you walk by it on your way to 95% of the climbs in the Trapps. It lures people with its easy grading and prominance, yet is very poorly protected and has a decieving crux move out of the crack onto the face.

Personally, I dont see any reason for me to ever lead Boston. Especially because it is sandwiched between several classics at the grade (take Horsemans for instance). I would probably contemplate soloing it before leading.

Hope that helps people develop a perspective of the route.

Jeff


tradrenn


Jan 26, 2005, 6:14 PM
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:cry:


tradrenn


Jan 26, 2005, 6:20 PM
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:cry:


overthehillclimber


Jan 26, 2005, 7:32 PM
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Thanks for all the thoughts and condolences. I want to clarify a point or two about whether BD or other modern cams are similarly vulnerable. First, the cam that broke is a Joss model, an older model now discontinued in favor of their new CanCam line. Cancams are made of 7075 T6 (I think the 6 is correct) and most other modern cams are also made of that alloy or 6061. These alloys are much stronger than the cast 3830 the Joss was made of. More importantly, they are much less brittle. The specs for 3830 state that it deforms 3.5 percent before breaking. 7075 deforms 11 percent before breaking. Thus, it is much better able to take an unusual load and give to the point where other lobes might share the load before breaking. NEVERTHELESS, any cam not pulling straight in line with all 4 lobes engaged will be much weaker than one placed in an ideal situation. (But not enough weaker, probably to break under the weight of a 140 pound climber on a low fall factor fall.)

WRT to report. We collaborated with the rangers at the Gunks to get a report together. They are submitting it to AAC. There was an initial report with the general information posted on the Gunks site within a few days of the accident. I am only now getting it on this site because I have been busy picking up the pieces of my friend's death ever since the accident.

If you want to see a photo of the cam, it is at http://users.starpower.net/judymark/cam.jpg

Finally, in spite of Boston's reputation, I toproped the climb after the accident, and there are, in fact, two perfectly good vertical cracks that take a nice sized nut about 3 or 4 feet below the horizontal where the cam was placed. It could have been backed up twice. It is, however, easy to overlook these as the final move up into the hands off stance where you place the cam is very easy. Once you are there, it is easy to overlook the cracks which are now around knee level.

Climb safe.

OTHC

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