American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Failure of Rappel, Piton Pulled Out, Failure to Follow Route, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Rundle Ridge

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987

FAILURE OF RAPPEL, PITON PULLED OUT, FAILURE TO FOLLOW ROUTE

Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Rundle Ridge

On August 16,1986, around 0800, David Doucette (38) and Bruce Magee (35) set out to climb the Guides’ Route (5.7), a 17-pitch climb on the east end of Rundle Ridge, near Canmore. After a half-hour hike to the starting point, they were on the climb, taking alternate leads. Since the climb was new to them, they took their time, using a guide book to keep them on track.

Around 1800, after climbing all day, they reached a broad, grassy, treed ledge. David led the pitch and found it to be much harder than stated in the guide book. He ran a full rope length, about 50 meters, then drove a piton and secured himself. He belayed Bruce up 25 meters to a ledge where Bruce secured himself to a small shrub and to a piece of protection placed in a crack. David rapelled down to Bruce.

The time was 1930, and they had done 13 pitches. They decided to rappel back to the large grassy ledge. David drove another piton, and secured a sling to it, which was also secured to a nearby shrub. They both rappelled. However, when they tried to pull the ropes down, they found that the ropes were stuck. David prusiked ten meters up the rope, freed them, and reported this to Bruce.

Then Bruce heard the sound of ropes moving at high speed. He turned to see David fall from above, hit the grassy ledge, and then continue down the mountain. In an attempt to stop David, Bruce grabbed the ropes, receiving a rope burn on his hand. David fell about 200 meters and was killed.

Bruce attracted attention by yelling to passing cars, and motorists in turn alerted the RCMP. Park Rangers and RCMP rescued Bruce by helicopter the following morning. (Source: Bruce Magee and Patricia Doucette, Banff, Alberta)

Analysis

The climbers were conscientious and cautious, and had a full rack of climbing equipment. Their equipment was all new and consisted of helmets, sit harnesses, one 11 millimeter 40 meter rope, one 9 millimeter 50 meter rope, stoppers, slings, climbing boots, pitons, and carabiners.

Unfortunately they got off route on pitch 13 onto tricky terrain, as do many climbing the route for the first time. In the guide book, the dots indicating the route span a 25-meter area, leaving the exact path to take up to the climber.

David Doucette fell because the piton pulled from the rock. The evidence for this is that the piton and attached sling remained with rope. For the rappel down, he was using a Figure-8 and prusik back-up. (Source: Bruce Magee and Patricia Doucette, Banff, Alberta)

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