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Rappel Failure—Misperception of Anchor, Fall on Ice


Alberta, Banff National Park, Selenium Falls

On December 12, a party of three had completed Selenium Falls, a water ice Grade 5 route. To descend, the climbers threaded their ropes through an existing Abalokov (V-thread) in the ice. A V-thread anchor is created by threading and unthreading two ice screws at an angle to one another through the ice and then threading a cord through the channel. A knot is tied on the outside to create a hanging loop. In this case, the cord had iced over since its original installation and the climbers mistook the long tail end of the cord for the main, knotted part of the loop. When the first climber, D.J. (40) began to rappel, the loose tail pulled out of the ice and he fell 140 meters to the base of the climb, sustaining fatal injuries. The other two climbers hiked up to the ridge and traversed over to the gondola station at the summit of the mountain. Two hours after the fall, they were able to alert Warden Service dispatch. By then it was dark, but Warden Service rescue crews climbed up to the route prepared to do a stretcher evacuation. The climber was located at the base of the route. His body was evacuated the next morning by heli-sling.


V-thread anchors are a common and reliable method for setting up rappels on waterfall ice. However, they should always be backed up with an ice screw anchor until the last climber descends. This is particularly important when using previously installed anchors. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service)