Canyon Tales
Group Perspective

Incident in Behunin — October 7, 2006

Brian Frankle, Tom Jones, Hank Moon, & Alicia Scotter

—  Account by Alicia Scotter  —

Trust the Merry Hankster to turn the lucky moment you didn’t want into something artistic. Here goes ... kinda like I did somewhere in Behunin Canyon, ACA Saturday.

Anyway, the day was going well. The sun was back, we had our New Amigo, Brian, along for the day, and we found the Possible Future Emperor, Mr. Tom Talboys, and Miss Emma making a sandcastle at Boyscout Overlook. So no violin strings vibrating for the upcoming Gotcha! moment.

At the first of the multiple rappel sequence, Tom made the first drop. He told Hank and me to simo behind him, leaving Brian at the anchor. Hank was well on his way down when I started off, the small thing that probably saved my life. It meant I was still on the fairly low–angle slabs when the rope went slack. Hank had reached bottom and had somehow—due to my featherlight figure I’m sure—forgotten I was on the other side and gone off rappel. Brian, above me, didn’t see me go, but my scream made him instinctively grab the rope. Hank and Tom grabbed from the bottom, and I believe my next words were, “What the f— was that?!”(Can you say these words on the Canyons Site for a ‘near death experience?’)

But here’s the really bad part which Hank will not deny. As I finished the descent, listing all the things Hank would be doing to make up for his misdeed (no firstborns on MY list, believe me!) he blew the whole thing off! Being Hank, I didn’t take it personally. And indeed, a more subtle revenge was to be mine. As the day continued, Hank slowly, but then increasingly, became contrite. By the end of the canyon I could have been filling out the ‘grovel list’ in triplicate. We ended the day with a ‘margarita truce’ at the Ponderosa but unusual emails followed with Hank apologizing for EVERYTHING! So, in order to restore my Favorite Hank to his former state of cheekiness, I am writing this account to the canyoneering community to absolve him from his error. He is one of my True Amigos, my life will be in his hands in many more canyons, and the ‘grovel list’ is shredded.


—  Account by Brian Frankle  —

Upon reaching the first rappel in Behunin Canyon, Tom and I simul-rapped down the slab. Alicia followed solo, as Hank cleaned up some slings and rings from a few extraneous anchors, then quickly rapped the slab. Once he arrived, we set up the second rap station off the BFT, and Tom descended quickly to the 3rd rap anchor. At this point, Alicia and Hank decided to simul-rap, with me following 4th solo. ‘biner blocked. Once he descended about ½ way, Alicia began to rap on the opposing line, anchored by Hank’s weight as he continued his own rappel. At this point, from my vantage clipped into the slings at the top of the 2nd rappel, Tom and Hank were not visible, and Alicia was about halfway to the 3rd rap station on the fairly low–angle portion of the 2nd rap before the terrain steepens.

Suddenly I heard Alicia call out (Ok ... SCREAM) Hank’s name. As I looked up from the anchor, I saw Alicia quickly backpeddling, seemingly on the verge of tipping over backwards as she descended, despite having her rap device locked off. Before I really processed the situation or looked for a solution, my gloved right hand reached down and grabbed both strands of rope ... simply a reaction and not a conscious decision on my part. Alicia came to a stop, the clove–hitched ‘biner from the block now 5–6 ft away from the anchor.

After a few choice words, confirmation that the rope was anchored, and that Hank was once again securing his end of the rope, Alicia continued down to the 3rd rap station. I reset the block and rapped. Upon reaching the 3rd rappel, we briefly discussed the incident, apologized where necessary, and decided to rap individually for the remainder of the day.

The rest of the day was thankfully uneventful (other than a snagged line on the 2nd to last rap), and we all enjoyed Behunin Canyon.

• Review •

Obviously at some point there was either a lack of communication or a momentary lapse of focus. I am sure other accounts of this incident will shed light on it. From my viewpoint, other than a preliminary and definite confirmation of intention, we could have easily set up a simul-rap that secured both ends of the rope independently—thus eliminating the need for Hank to act as an anchor for Alicia. This would have increased our efficiency (the purpose behind the simul-rap to begin with), while resulting in a safer system that was not as dependent on clear communication. Since I was rapping last, I could have easily reset the rigging and rapped on a block.

Although our day was slightly rushed due to a late start, I do not think that the group was operating in a ‘rushed’ state of mind. All canyoneers seemed at ease and comfortable. Undoubtedly, it would have been helpful if we all had agreed upon a specific tactic from the outset of the canyon (or at each rappel) as to our approach. As was the case, the bulk of the group’s conversation was elsewhere, and our discussion as to the canyon and its challenges were brief at best.

In retrospect, knowing that Hank also grabbed his end of the rap line to arrest Alicia’s descent, I am not certain how effective it was for me to grab both lines in an attempt to stop Alicia. As I stated before, it was a reaction not a conscious decision on my part. Conscious or not, I was glad I had leather gloves ...


—  Account by Tom Jones  —

A casual trip through an old friend with dear friends. It was really nice for me to canyoneer with experienced people for a change and just do the canyon without teaching and watching every little thing.

We got a very late start and, while not ’rushed’, needed to do the canyon expeditiously. I suggested a little simul–rapping on the first two slabby rappels to speed things along. Brian and I rapped the first together, side–by–side. Alicia and Hank rapped that one separately.

The second rap was set off the big tree to the slabs below. I went down first and made sure both ends were down. From the bottom, I walked down about 20 feet and hung out. Hank came down, and I could see Alicia rigging up and then starting down on the other side, and out of sight of Hank. Since I was not sure Hank knew Alicia was rappelling, I stepped toward Hank to be sure he knew, as he reached the bottom.

The new rappel device Hank has been working on, The Gizmo, is lightning fast to get off rappel. As I was stepping forward, Hank was already off–rappel. As he flipped the rope out, it started going tight and Hank grabbed it. A bit of a scream from above might have helped. Hank then secured the end of the rope and called up “sorry” and “rope secure.”

Things that helped the situation:
a – The rappel is slabby. Alicia was on a low–angle section and did not have much weight on the rope.
b – Alicia only weighs 100 lbs.
c – Hank is quick on his feet. Hank may have been standing on the rope.

Things that hurt the situation:
a – The Gizmo releases the rope almost instantly at the bottom of the rappel.
b – There was only about 10 feet of extra rope on each end of the rappel.

a – I did much the same thing to Steve B in Imlay two weeks earlier. Thankfully, the Pirana I was using was somewhat slower to get the rope out of. Again, I was very close to the end of the rope and could have easily lost the tail.
b – When simul–rapping, it should be done side–by–side, so neither person can forget that they are simul–rapping.


—  Account by Hank Moon  —

Behunin—a late start—so we simul the first rap to save time. This rap has a single bolt anchor and is accessed by walking along a small contour/contact ledge on canyon left (LDC). Tom and I go first with rope for the 2nd rap, which Tom descends on a blocked single–line. After Tom makes sure both ends are down, I go to the blocked side and begin to rig my rap device.

“Are we simuling this one, too?” asks Alicia.

“Sure. I’m gonna go on down while you’re getting ready. See ya at the bottom.”

Though simuling is generally riskier than having only one person on rope, it’s a great time saver and I’d done it many times without mishap. This time, however, I neglect one simple rule of simul–rappelling: both parties must agree on a plan for the descent before either begins to rappel.

I slide quickly down the rope and the forgotten no–plan is never remembered ... zip past the breakover point—after which Brian and Alicia are no longer visible—toward the slabs below. After landing next to Tom, I thoughtlessly remove the rope from my rappel device. Alicia’s voice makes some very concerned sounds. About the same time, I notice my end of the rope sliding rapidly up the rock toward the anchor. Whoopsie ... uh oh ... f—k. NOW my screw–up detector was functional. With reflexes honed from years of pinballs, Tetris, and Robotron. I grab the moving rope and wrap it several times around my hand. I think, “This should hurt like a motherf—”, but it doesn’t thanks to Alicia’s elfin frame and the forgiveness of slabs. She hadn’t yet made the breakover point when I took away her anchor.

I must have said something at that point but can’t remember what, if anything. Maybe I said, “It’s OK. Now you can come on down.” Whatever was said or unsaid, Alicia did come on down. I do remember what she was saying on the way, “Ohhh brother, you sooo owe me—you owe me big time!” or something like that. I felt like a very small turd. Ever wondered what little lumps say under stress? “I don’t owe you anything—but I do apologize,” the first part delivered testily ... don’t remember about the second part. Feeling detached, now ... not nervous or shaken ... just calm and withdrawn. Some time later, alone at the next rappel station, I shove down panic and trembling while readying to rappel. Finally, a reaction. I guess I’m human after all.

November 7, 2006

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© 2006 Brian Frankle, Nolan Thomas Jones, Hank Moon, & Alicia Scotter