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Coroner Endorses Route Description Changes After Climber’s Death

A tragic accident involving an experienced climber has led to a recommendation for route descriptions to be updated

In 2019, Paul Corridon​, 71, died while climbing at Port Hills near Christchurch in New Zealand. Corridon, a highly experienced climber, hadn’t placed any protection when he slipped off the route.

It was an “error of judgement” that came despite his “vast experience,” friends said. Corridon, a climbing coordinator and member of the local branch of the New Zealand Alpine Club (NZAC), fell from Face Variation, a 16-metre trad route on Rapaki Rock.

He was airlifted to hospital in a critical condition by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter but died a short while later, police said. He had been climbing with four other friends when the accident happened.

Clayton Garbes, an instruction co-ordinator at the Canterbury and Westland branch of the Alpine Club, said: “Paul was leading a climb and for unknown reasons had not placed any protection when he slipped and fell up to 10m. Paul was a vastly experienced climber (traditional and ice) and an error of judgement has resulted in this accident. We will all miss Paul enormously as he was such a likeable and approachable person who welcomed all abilities into our climbing group. If anything is to be learnt from this tragic and avoidable accident it is to always climb safe and think of yourself and climbing friends when doing so.”

Corridon left behind a wife and two young daughters. Originally from the United States, Corridon moved to New Zealand a few years prior. NZAC general manager Karen Leacock said the accident had “devastated” the climbing community. “I didn’t know him personally but I knew he was an integral member of the Canterbury and Westland committee and at the heart of the climbing community. I’ve had a lot of emails and phone calls today and there are a lot of very upset people. He is going to be very much missed by the community.”

Now, in recommendations endorsed by coroner Marcus Elliott​, the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council (MSC) says climbers should no longer lead Face Variation. The MSC noted that the “immediate contributing factor” to his death was that Corridon had not placed any protection on the climb.

According to this article, the MSC said, “It also outlined that there were very few places for protection to be placed in the mid-section of the climb and, given the ‘long run out’ from the beginning of the climb to the point at which Corridon fell, he may still have hit the ground, even if he had placed protection.” The article noted: “Coroner Elliott wrote that the recommendations were put to the NZAC and it were given an opportunity to comment, but chose not to.”

The MSC said climbers should not attempt to lead Face Variation, and that all guidebooks must be updated. The current guidebook beta reads: “protection can be hard to find on the lower third of the route and has resulted in at least one serious accident.”