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Rappel Error—Only Clipped into One Rope, No Belay, Ontario, Milton, Kelso Conservation Area, "Jolly Rodger" Route


Ontario, Milton, Kelso Conservation Area, “Jolly Rodger” Route

Two climbers, S. H. and W. T. from Mississauga, finished climbing the route “Jolly Rodger” around 1400 on August 23, and decided to rappel down the route. S. H. would go first, but declined a safety belay which W. T. offered him. A tree was slung with a piece of webbing, the doubled rope was secured to it with two non-locking carabiners, and then S. H. clipped his descender in to the rope. But as he leaned back to start the rappel, one side of the rope slid up through the anchor carabiners, and S. H. fell some 20 meters to the ground; he had clipped in only one side of the rappel rope. Nearby climbers assisted and ran to the lifeguard station for help, and rescue personnel reached the victim within minutes, but S. H. did not revive, and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital at 1500.


S. H.’s level of rappel experience is not known, so his error could have resulted from either unfamiliarity or haste. While there were easy ways down from the top, W. T. offered a safer approach to rappelling in the form of a top belay.

Every aspect of the rappel system is important and should be verified, including the harness, the clip-in, the threading of the descender, the rope, the anchor attachment, and the anchor itself, before a commitment is made. In this case, the tree may have been adequate as a single anchor, but use of two separate slings is recommended, as is the use of two locked safety carabiners or two standard carabiners with gates outward and opposite. Also, partners should thoroughly check each others setup. Finally, S. H. did not wear a helmet, which could have saved his life. (Source: Robert Stock, Ontario Climbing Instructor)