American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Rappel Failure—Incorrect Use of Equipment, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Heart Creek

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1995

RAPPEL FAILURE—INCORRECT USE OF EQUIPMENT

Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Heart Creek

On June 26, 1994, Alan C. was rock climbing at Heart Creek slabs with friends. After completing a pitch, he was being lowered by his belayer from below, with the rope running through a sling. When he was part of the way down, the rope “burned” through the sling, and Alan fell to the bottom of the climb, sustaining a fracture of the pelvis. His friends carried him down the Heart Creek trail as far as the first bridge, where they were met by personnel of Canmore Emergency Services, who placed him on a back board and proceeded to assess his condition. Meanwhile, a Kananaskis Central District ranger on patrol noticed the C.E.S. vehicles parked at Heart Creek, and informed his office. Upon asking C.E.S. about the situation, they were told about the accident for the first time. The ranger called for a wheel stretcher, and then hiked up the trail, finding the victim at the first bridge with his friends and the paramedics. They resumed the evacuation, and met two more rangers with the wheel stretcher, about halfway to the road. Alan was transferred to the wheel stretcher, and taken to an ambulance at the trailhead. Park rangers were refused personal information about the victim, under authority of the Ambulance Act, until several days later. (Source: George Field, Alpine Specialist, Kananaskis Country)

Analysis

Most climbers instinctively know that running a loaded rope through a sling is to be strictly avoided, yet we have reported a number of accidents like this in the last couple of years. If a carabiner or rappel ring is not available or cannot be left behind, then the descending climber should rappel on the doubled rope, or downclimb the route with a top-rope belay—or walk off.

Regarding the awkward circumstances of the evacuation, Park officials are concerned that they were not immediately notified, as they could have responded in half the time actually taken in this case. Also they feel the Ambulance Act should not be used as an obstacle to their obtaining information needed for risk management purposes. (Source: Orvel Miskiw)

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