A rock climber on North Vancouver's Crown Mountain fell to his death Wednesday while his partner tried in vain to save him.

North Shore Rescue's Mike Danks says the two men were climbing the Widowmaker route, when, according to the survivor, the lead climber fell and ripped his fall-protection out of the cliff face with the weight of his body.

The survivor was rescued after suffering 3rd-degree burns when he tried to grab the rope they were joined with to stop the fall.

Danks says the man fell about 75 metres to his death.

"What caused the fall, we don't know," Danks said. "He ended up falling, hitting the ledge where his friend was and ended up falling ... into the bottom of the gully.

"This is a real tragedy for us. Our condolences go out to his family."

Danks says his group got the call at around 2:30 p.m. PT when a person told North Vancouver RCMP they had heard screaming and the sound of rocks falling in the Hanes Valley.

A helicopter spotted the surviving climber stranded on a ledge 60 metres up and the dead hiker at the bottom of the cliff face. The survivor told rescuers that the lead climber was about 15 metres above him when the fall happened.

The surviving climber was recovered and is now in Lions' Gate Hospital.

Danks says the Widowmaker is a route for experienced climbers. He did not immediately know the experience level of the climbers. He says conditions were not believed to be a factor.

"Accidents happen. I don't think anybody's to blame. It's just one of those things."

The climber was confirmed deceased at approximately 5 p.m., and the B.C. Coroner's Service is now investigating, Danks said.

Rare failure of gear

Doug Acorn is a climber with 20 years experience. He is familiar with the Widowmaker route and said the community is anxious to learn details of what happened.

"We just wonder if it's a good friend of ours and at this point I still don't know," he told Rick Cluff, host of The Early Edition.

In this case, it was the lead climber who fell to his death. Acorn explained that a lead climber goes first, placing protective gear at intervals along the climb. That gear is designed to catch the climber in case of a fall.

According to Danks, the climber placed four pieces of protection in a crack in the rock while he was ascending but all four pieces of gear failed.

"Generally, this gear does not fail. In fact, it's pretty rare to even hear a story of one piece of gear failing," said Acorn.

Search and rescue believes the pair were climbing off the established route which Acorn compared to skiing out of bounds.

"You want to stay as close as you can to the runs. When you go out of bounds, that's when things happen," he explained.

Acorn said the Widowmaker's name is usually more ominous than the climb itself, though it is an exposed high-alpine climbing route and not recommended for beginners.

Acorn said the route "requires a diverse set of skills to safely go up."

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition