Rappel Error, No Backup, No Hard Hat, Alberta, Kananaskis Country, Barrier Mountain, Barrier Bluffs

Publication Year: 2005.


Alberta, Kananaskis Country, Barrier Mountain, Barrier Bluffs

On April 30, a climber fell 15 to 20 metres to the ground while rappelling off a 5.8 sport climb, at Barrier Bluffs, “One Way to Wangland.” The 30- year-old climber had finished leading the pitch and had rigged the rope to rappel and clean the route. The figure-8 device he used to rappel with was loaded incorrectly and he failed to test it before committing his weight to the rope. He subsequently fell directly to the ground, hit shoulder first and rolled five metres downslope, coming to rest on a rock. He was not wearing a helmet. Five other climbers immediately lowered off their respective climbs and ran to give assistance. One climber took a cell phone and headed to the road where he flagged down a car for help. Luckily, two registered nurses from the emergency department at the Calgary Foothills Hospital were in the car. They quickly made their way to the accident scene to assist. They performed a detailed assessment and determined that the victim’s femur was shattered and that he had ruptured a vein or artery in the upper leg. He had also sustained a compound fracture to the elbow and radius, internal injuries and a number of deep lacerations on his head and body. When they arrived, the victim was bleeding heavily. The nurses repositioned the man so that his blood was going to his head and heart. This action likely saved his life. A paramedic and conservation officer also arrived on the scene within minutes and began preparations to evacuate via helicopter. Alpine Helicopters from Canmore dropped a public safety officer to the scene and went to the road to wait. STARS air ambulance was called and met the helicopter at the highway. A short line and jenny bag were employed to transfer the victim to the highway in serious condition. Two minutes later, a STARS helicopter picked him up and took him to Foothills Hospital. (Source: Burke Duncan)


The climber who fell was experienced. He said he had done this hundreds of times and this time he must not have been concentrating. It has become common practice to attach a sling from one’s harness with a prusik knot in the rope below the lowering device as a backup.