28 Sep 2018

Free-climbing death highlights dangers, coroner says

4:06 pm on 28 September 2018

The death of a man who fell while rock climbing on the South Island's West Coast has highlighted the risk of free-climbing.

The coroner has today released the findings into the death of Clinton Smith, who died in a rock climbing accident.

In April last year, Clinton Smith and two others had travelled to a well known climbing spot in the Charleston area.

His climbing companions were both using ropes, but Mr Smith was climbing in what's known as a 'free solo' manner.

Both of his fellow climbers regarded Mr Smith as a very experienced climber who was fit and healthy.

None of the group were wearing helmets and after climbing the face at least two times, Mr Smith fell onto an area littered with boulders and was found face down in a pool of water.

The cause of the fall was not clear, but despite it being known as a climbing wall, it was not overly popular, meaning the rock is not as clean for dirt, moss and loose rock as other more popular climbs.

He was taken to Wellington Hospital, but died three days later of a traumatic brain injury.

Coroner Robinson deemed even with a helmet on Mr Smith would have sustained significant injuries, but the use of a climbing rope would have likely prevented this tragedy.

He endorsed the Mountain Safety Council's (MSC) recommendation free solo climbing is inherently dangerous and not an activity they would encourage people to participate in.

"MSC concluded that Mr Smith exposed himself to unnecessary risk in undertaking free solo climbing," he wrote.