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Illness, Improper Rappel Procedure, Fall on Rock, British Columbia, Bugaboo Mountains, Snowpatch Spire


British Columbia, Bugaboo Mountains, Snowpatch Spire

On August 8, 1988, Bruce MacNab (24) and Martin Condor left the Conrad Kain Hut to climb the Southeast Corner route on Snowpatch Spire (Grade IV, 5.7). Condor led a 50 meter, 5.4 pitch and brought up MacNab. MacNab was moving slowly, making small mistakes, and seemed disoriented. (Condor had been told, vaguely, a month before by MacNab, about a diabetic condition that he had.) Because MacNab was not feeling well and going slowly, the team decided to rappel. Condor suggested climbing about six meters higher to a larger ledge from where they could possibly scramble down. But MacNab just wanted to descend. Condor set up a rappel and went down first.

The rappel was about 45 meters long, down a very steep wall-and-corner system, and ended in a steep third and fourth class gully. Condor finished the rappel and informed MacNab of this. MacNab was apparently taking a long time to set up his rappel device. Condor then saw a meter or so of rope being pulled up. (Was he connecting his rappel device to the rope?) Condor then heard MacNab cry out Oh, no!” and then saw him tumble down to the bottom of the gully. The fall was about 45 meters down the face plus 60 meters down the gully. The time was about 1030.

Condor found MacNab moaning, bleeding from the mouth, and very smashed up. There was no verbal communication between the two, and no first aid administered. Condor climbed back up the gully to retrieve his hiking boots (he was wearing rock shoes) and ice ax, and then rushed to the Conrad Kain Hut to report the accident to the Park Ranger. A rescue helicopter arrived about 1130, and took MacNab to In- vermere Hospital. He died in hospital from extensive injuries. (Source: Chris Atkinson, Bugaboo Glacier Provincial Park)


Both climbers were well equipped for technical rock climbing and both wore helmets. MacNab was moderately experienced with about one year of lead climbing and three to four years experience in the mountains.

When MacNab’s gear was examined later, it was found that he had a figure-eight descender attached by a carabiner to a sling around his neck and shoulder. He also had a Sticht plate attached to a short sling. The locking carabiner attached to his harness was found to be unlocked.

It would appear that MacNab had pulled up the meter of rope in order to attach his Sticht plate to the rope, in the process somehow unclipping himself from the rappel anchor. He then had nothing to stop him when he slipped from the small ledge (about 30 centimeters wide). A very likely factor contributing to his fall was his slow, disoriented condition. (Source: Chris Atkinson, Bugaboo Glacier Provincial Park)