American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Harness Came Off—Not Buckled Correctly and Not Cliped in to Leg Yokes, Quebec, Gatineau Park, Cabin Creek Falls

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001


Quebec, Gatineau Park, Cabin Creek Falls

On January 15, R.P. (48) began to climb Cabin Creek Falls, a water ice Grade 2 or 3 climb, depending on the line taken. He was belayed on top-rope by M.B. Both climbers had previous ice climbing experience. The rope was tied with a figure eight knot loop with a locking carabiner attached to it for the climber to clip into his/her harness. The climbers exchanged the standard information to indicate they were both ready and R.P. started up the route.

As R.P. started up the steeper section of the climb, his hand slipped out of his tool and he fell one or two feet, leaving his ice tool in place. M.B. helped R.P. reach his ice tool by applying all her weight to the rope to help “heave” him up. From there, R.P. climbed up and over the steep section and then asked to be lowered. R.P. began to lower over the steep part of the wall when he suddenly became airborne. He fell four meters, bounced on an ice ledge and then slid down another ten meters head first on his back. He was stopped by a large rock.

R.P. was unconscious for about two minutes. Other climbers called 911 and began an initial assessment of the victim. They were careful not to move him for fear of spinal injury. Warm clothing was placed around and over the victim.

The other climbers noticed that the waist belt of R.P.’s harness was not threaded through the buckle as it should have been.

Volunteer police and fire officials and the Emergency Medical Team arrived on the scene. Transportation of the litter down the hill took approximately one hour, with about 25 people involved. R.P. was diagnosed with a broken clavicle, four broken vertebrae, four broken ribs, a bruised lung, a fracture in the bone area under the eye, lacerations to the face and back of the head and undetermined head injuries. (Source: Diana MacGibbon, Ottawa)


The top rope system was examined and found to be sound, including the presence of the still-locked carabiner attached to the figure eight knot at the climber’s end of the rope. An inspection of R.P.’s harness revealed no obvious damage, and the climbers testing it after the accident found that they could not pull the waist belt apart even when it was only passed through the buckle once (i.e. not doubled back). It is possible that R.P. did “double back” the harness, but failed initially to pass the webbing through both sections of the buckle. The harness had a leg yoke separate from the waist belt and the two were intended to be connected by a carabiner. R.P. did not clip the locking carabiner through the leg yoke.

Many climbers are taught at an early stage to check their partner’s harness before climbing. As climbers become more experienced, practices such as this are often discontinued. No matter what experience level, it is always a good idea to look at your partner’s set up, particularly when bulky winter clothing may have obstructed their view of the harness.

Although it may not have affected the outcome of this accident, many climbers argue that top-roping with a carabiner attached to a figure eight knot is unacceptable because of the risk of a cross-loaded carabiner gate. It is safer practice to tie directly the rope directly into the harness. (Source: Diana MacGibbon, Ottawa; Nancy Hansen)

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