American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rappel—No Belay, Inexperience, Nova Scotia, Eagle's Nest

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


Nova Scotia, Eagle’s Nest

On April 13, Chris and Ray went out to this popular climbing area to do some basic top- roping. They decided to rappel to the bottom of the 20-meter cliff, even though Chris was not very experienced at rappelling. Chris went first, and after descending about ten meters, her right foot slipped, sending her swinging against the wall with her right side. Surprised, she made the mistake of releasing the rope with her brake hand in order to steady herself, and she immediately began to fall. In a desperate attempt to stop herself, she grabbed the rope in her hands. Although she fell all the way to the bottom, she managed to slow herself down so she did not sustain any fractures, but she did suffer very severe third-degree bums to her fingers and hands, along with several bruises and scrapes. Ray rappelled down immediately and took her to the local hospital for medical treatment. She made a very good recovery after about three weeks in bandages.


Considering Chris’ unfamiliarity with rappelling, she should have been belayed. Ray could have rappelled first and stood ready to pull the ropes to stop Chris’ descent in case she lost control. Or he could have rigged a prussik on the rope as a safety device for her, or, best of all, belayed her from the top with one rope while she rappelled on the other. (Source: Harry Fischer)

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