American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Rappel Error—Haste, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Cowbell Crag

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


Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Cowbell Crag

One Sunday morning in August, 1994, Phil M. went climbing at Cowbell Crag with his less-experienced friends Irf and Shakil. After climbing for two hours, they were descending a 50-meter face the last time in order for Phil to get to work at 1400. Phil rappelled to a ledge about ten meters above the ground, and Shakil was waiting at the top anchor for his turn. Shakil was not completely familiar with the procedure, so Phil was coaching him from the ledge 40 meters below, and Shakil started pulling up the ropes. After a couple of minutes, Phil realized the confusion could be dangerous, so he decided to descend to the base and then hike ‘up the back’ to oversee Shakil's rappel. To get down, Phil could traverse and downclimb easily, or climb straight down with the rappel rope for a belay, or get back on the rope and rappel the last 10 meters. Alternatively, he could climb the pitch one last time with a belay from his friend at the top. He decided to rappel, but unknown to him, a length of the rope had accumulated and snagged above while Shakil was preparing to descend. Phil clipped it into his descender and stepped to the edge. As soon as he weighted the rope, the snag came free and he fell to the ground, striking a ledge on the way, and ended up sitting on the approach trail six meters from the base of the cliff with broken ribs and a gash at the base of his skull. (Source: George Field, Alpine Specialist, Kananaskis Country)


Phil says he was too lazy to climb up to the rappel station and too relaxed about his rappel because of the short distance to the bottom, but notes that climbers have been killed in shorter falls. Its not known whether he was still on the rope after he fell, but some troubling questions arise from the numbers given, in any case: If they were using 50-meter ropes and the pitch was 50 meters high as reported, then in order for him to hit the ground when he fell from the ledge, he must have been very close to the end of the rappel rope when he clipped in—close enough to think that the rope would not

reach the ground, and make him wonder why. This account focuses on the seriousness of rappelling, the need for constant awareness of all aspects of the system in use, and the dangers of any sort of offhandedness in climbing. (Source: Orvel Miskiw)

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