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Climber Sues Guide for Negligence After a Near Fatal Accident

A fridge-sized block dislodged. The rope was let go. Both climber and guide survived, but the climber wants reparations. 

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In July 2021, Ian Manson, 63, hired local guide Jeffery Mitchell to take him up Mount Rogers in Glacier National Park, British Columbia, Canada. Now, after a near fatal accident, Manson is suing Mitchell, Revelstoke Alpine School Inc. (the guiding service), and the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) for negligence and breach of contract.

According to the lawsuit, Manson and Mitchell began their ascent on July 15. On a pitch at approximately 9,8400 feet, the two were connected via 30 feet of working rope. Mitchell, who had just led the pitch in question, opted to belay Manson via a hand-over-hand belay. He did not set up an anchor system.

After the two exchanged the respective “on-belay!” and “climbing!” commands, Manson began to climb. Mitchell, who was directly above Manson, then “tested the stability of a large fridge-sized frock with his foot, causing the rock to dislodge and then fall,” stated the civil claim filed by Manson’s counsel, MacKenzie Fujisawa LLP.

Manson, who moved to dodge the rock, was grazed in the head. Mitchell let go of the rope, which caused Manson to fall at least 20 feet before the rope became taught. He then hit a ledge and stopped. Mitchell, in turn, was pulled off his ledge. The civil claim continued: 

The suit contends that “[Manson] grabbed the slack rope that was dangling from Mitchell’s belay loop with his bare hands, braced himself, and held on, in order to change the arc of Mitchell’s fall and to try slow Mitchell’s rate of fall, to prevent Mitchell from falling further and to prevent further injury to both parties.”

Both climbers were airlifted to different hospitals. 

Manson, according to his counsel, sustained rope-burns to his hands, arms and torso; lacerations to his hands, arms, torso, and right leg; a hematoma [bruise] to his right leg; and psychological injuries including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and insomnia.

Neither Mitchell nor the Revelstoke Alpine School could be reached for comment or clarification. Mitchell is a certified guide both through the ACMG and the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA). He’s also a Salomon ambassador, Capow Guide, and Selkirk Tangier’s Guide.

MacKenzie Fujisawa LLP filed a notice of civil claim on Nov. 9, 2021, with Manson seeking compensation for “general damages, special damages, and costs.” Some of the listed charges stated: “the failure of Mitchell to receive adequate or sufficient training in shortroping and/or short pitching [moving with clients on a shortened rope] and/or holding actual loads in test situations; the failure of Mitchell to anchor in at the upper belay station; the failure of Mitchell to comply with professional standards or practices for belaying.”

Another listed charge was “the failure of Mitchell to select a ‘shoulder belay’ or ‘seated belay technique.'” Kevin Dumba, Executive Director of ACMG, told Climbing: “Hip and shoulder belays are professional guiding techniques described in detail in The Technical Handbook for Professional Mountain Guides published in 1999 by the ACMG and the AMGA.” Dumba continued that both methods are considered appropriate belay methods. 

 “With these belays, the guide and their braced position become the anchor,” he said. “They are commonly used techniques in 3rd, 4th or easy 5th class terrain, and often in ‘short roping’ scenarios, where: low loads are anticipated; loads will be held for very short periods of time; the guide is in a braced position appropriate for the anticipated load; when a ‘slip’ rather than a ‘fall’ is anticipated; the terrain is low angled or stepped; and the route traverses, is near or on the ridge crest.”

On short roping, Dumba added: “It is an important tool for professional guides. The rope may be shortened for safety in areas where long ropes increase hazards such as rock fall or impede moving over terrain more quickly for efficient progress.”

The details Dumba provided were based on general best practices, although he could not speak to this specific case.