American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Fatigue, Inexperience, Party Separated, Quebec, Old Stoneham Cliffs

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1994


Late on August 22, 1993, Benoit L. (24) and Stephan G. (25) decided to climb Old Stoneham bluff, and started up with minimal equipment that included a rope, flashlight, and first-aid kit. After the approach, they entered steeper terrain, which involved rock scrambling and became quite exposed. About 80 meters up, Stephan found the climb too difficult and decided to turn back. But Benoit wanted to continue to the top, so he took the rope and carried on. Meanwhile, Stephan soon found he could not get down alone, so he stayed there and began to signal for help with his flashlight about 2100.

A resident of Old Stoneham noticed the light flashing in the cliffs at 2135 and called the Surete du Quebec. They took details and notified the Military Intervention Group, who immediately initiated a ground rescue operation. Six men, including a group leader, a climbing leader, a rescue instructor, and three climbers, started up toward the cliff about 2310. They found that the darkness, the steepness and length of the trail, and the weight of the rescue equipment, made the ascent difficult.

At the foot of the cliff about 2335, the group decided to split up, with two members staying there to direct the others, who would continue up the trail and traverse to the stranded climber's position. At 0030 August 23, the climbers reached a position about 30 meters left and 12 meters above him. With the help of the headlamps of the climbers and the flashlight of the subject, the spotters below directed rescue instructor G. Gauthier as he descended to Stephan. He found him in a precarious position, standing on a 15 cm ledge with no tie-in. After securing him to his main line with a sling, he called for climbing leader A. Paquin to join him at 0115, and they set up a lowering system, using a figure-eight descender. Then Paquin lowered Gauthier and the subject to the base of the cliff simultaneously; that way Gauthier was able to help and reassure Stephan, and control the descent rate by radio contact with Paquin. They were down safe at 0220, and group leader G. Canuel took charge of the rescued climber to usher him down the trail to the road.

Meanwhile, Paquin recovered the equipment used for anchoring the descent and rappelled twice from trees to reach the bottom, while the other climbers scrambled and walked back down the trail. All were back at the road at 0345, and the operation was complete at 0445.


The second climber, Benoit L., abandoned his partner and never made contact with the rescue group. He returned home on his own about midday on August 23. His actions in this incident are described as reckless and negligent. (Source: Quebec Mountain Federation)

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