American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Rappel Failure—Error in Anchoring, Inexperience, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Rundle 

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996

RAPPEL FAILURE—ERROR IN ANCHORING, INEXPERIENCE

Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Rundle

On September 10, David and Edward, (both 18), from England, and temporary employees of the Banff Springs Hotel, were rock climbing on the lower ridge of Mt. Rundle when an accident occurred in which David fell to his death.

They had climbed easy fifth-class rock about 175 meters above the local practice area, and then moved around onto the east face to rappel off the ridge to easy ground. Edward, the less experienced of the two, states they located a rappel anchor which consisted of a large horn or boulder with a sling around it. David, however, decided to remove and keep the sling, and instead looped the rope directly over the rock. Both climbers then rappelled moderate-angled slabs to a ledge lower on the face.

When they tried to retrieve the rope, it jammed. David decided to climb back up to free the rope. Edward believes David tied himself in to the rope as a safety measure, as he climbed up easily and out of Edward s sight near the top of the pitch. A few minutes later, Edward heard a noise, and saw David fall past him and land on ledges below. The full rope fell with him. Edward called for help and the Park Service and ambulance personnel were summoned.

Analysis

David was out of sight of his partner at the time he fell, so the exact cause is unknown. Edward says he understood that David was going to free the rope and toss it down the pitch rather than rappel. However, when his body was recovered, the rope was rigged as if for rappel or self-belay through a Sticht plate attached to his harness, so it's quite possible that David was setting up to rappel again when he fell. In any case, while both climbers had rappelled before, they were new to this area and may not have been familiar with jammed ropes, a common problem in the Rockies because of the nature of the rock. (Source: Tim Auger, Banff National Park Warden Service)

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