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Accident Reports - August 2011

Stranded Climbers, East Ridge of Mt Temple, Banff National Park, August 29, 2011
Stranded Climbers, Mt. Rundle, Banff National Park, August 14th, 2011
Stranded Climbers, Goodsir South Tower, Yoho National Park, August 14, 2011
Injured climber, Mt. Aberdeen, Banff National Park, August 13, 2011
Rockfall injury, Mt. Fay, Banff National Park, August 11, 2011
Scuba Diving Accident, Fatal, Lake Beauvert, Jasper National Park, Aug 7, 2011
Stranded Scramblers, Cascade Mountain, Banff National Park, August 6th, 2011

Stranded Climbers, East Ridge of Mt Temple, Banff National Park, August 29, 2011

At 22:00, on Aug 28th, two climbers called 911 from a cell phone and reported that they were unhurt, but off route and stranded in the Black Towers section of the East Ridge of Mt. Temple. There was a large cornice blocking their way up and they were unable to retrace their route down. Since it was already dark, Parks Canada Visitor Safety (VS) Specialists could not do anything that night, so they arranged a helicopter for early the next morning.

At first light on August 29th, three VS Specialists responded in a helicopter from Banff. The climbers were located in an off route gully at 10,500 feet in the Black Towers on the East Ridge of Mt. Temple (see photo). Two VS Specialists slung into below the climbers and climbed up to them. The VS Specialists put in an anchor and lowered the climbers down 20 metres to a ledge where they were slung off.

red circle shows the small snowpatch where the stranded climbers spent the night.
 The red circle shows the small snowpatch where the stranded climbers
spent the night
© Parks Canada

The operation was conducted quickly and efficiently so as to reduce the time the rescuers spent underneath the large cornice. High elevation and warm temperatures made flying conditions challenging, so a staging area close to the Black Towers was used to reduce travel time for each rescuer being slung.

Analysis
The two climbers became lost in the Black Towers. This is a confusing area and it is common for climbers to go astray here, as it is difficult to tell which gully to take when you are standing beneath the Towers. See an MCR from August 30th, 2011 for good beta on the Black Towers: http://www.acmg.ca/mcr/archives.asp.

The red circle shows the off route location of the climbers, and the red line shows the correct route through the Black Towers
The red circle shows the off route location of the climbers, and the red line shows the correct route through the Black Towers. / © Parks Canada

The pair climbed multiple pitches up the wrong gully until they realized the exit was blocked by a large cornice and that they would not be able to climb through it. They had climbed through poor quality rock with few opportunities for protection, and did not feel comfortable reversing their ascent. At this point, they decided to call Parks Canada Dispatch for help. It was a good decision to call for help once they realized that they were over their heads.

There are two key steps the climbing party could have taken to avoid this incident:

  1. The pair may have avoided becoming off route had they spent more time scouting their route through the Black Towers from further back along the ridge, or if they had had better beta for the route.
  2. If they had realized that they would not feel comfortable reversing their ascent, and turned around before they were committed to the unknown gully, they may have been able to invest more time in finding the correct gully and completing the route.


Stranded Climbers, Mt. Rundle, Banff National Park, August 14th, 2011

A group of three was attempting the traverse of Mt. Rundle, from Canmore to Banff, on August 13th. This is a long daytrip involving some fifth class climbing and a lot of route finding and scrambling. After a series of misadventures, the party became lost close to the final summit. It was getting dark, and the climbers decided to call Parks Canada Dispatch for help. The Visitor Safety (VS) Specialist who was on call for the day recommended that they stay put for the night, and a Visitor Safety team would come and get them in the morning. At sunrise, on August 14th, two Visitor Safety Specialists lifted off from Banff in a helicopter. They quickly located the stranded climbers and prepared for a heli-sling evacuation. The VS Specialists were slung into the site, and then slung out with each climber individually.

rescue site, showing the scree ledge that the climbers spent the night on
  The rescue site, showing the scree ledge that the climbers spent the night on.
© Parks Canada

Analysis

The climbers were exhausted and had had a few close calls throughout their day. They had to cut their rope and leave some gear behind, and were concerned that given their state, they would not be able to make it off the mountain safely. Luckily, they were prepared with enough warm clothing to survive the night, and were rescued before they got themselves into a worse situation. Long ridge climbs in the Rockies like this are often committing and involve a lot of route finding and loose rock management skills. Parties must move quickly and efficiently in order to complete routes like this in a day.

Stranded Climbers, Goodsir South Tower, Yoho National Park, August 14, 2011

Parks Canada Dispatch received notification of a Spot activation requesting emergency assistance from the summit of Goodsir South Tower at approximately 1150 am. Three Parks Canada Visitor Safety Specialists flew by helicopter from Banff to the scene and quickly located the climbers on the summit. Due to the high elevation of the rescue site (3567 m), along with gusty winds and difficult terrain; the team decided to sling a single rescuer to the summit who would remain attached to the long line and quickly clip the two stranded climbers to the line, evacuating both climbers and the rescuer at the same time. This plan worked well, and the stranded climbers were quickly brought down to the staging area in the valley bottom, 2000m below.

summit of Goodsir South Tower.  The stranded climbers are circled, and Goodsir North Tower is in the background.
 The summit of Goodsir South Tower. The stranded climbers are circled, and
Goodsir North Tower is in the background
© Parks Canada

Analysis

Both climbers had reached the summit after two difficult days and were exhausted both physically and mentally. Conditions were not good on the mountain with lots of snow and large cornices still remaining after a long, cold winter. There had not been a freeze while they were on the climb. The Goodsirs are known for having some of the worst rock quality in the Canadian Rockies, and when combined with rapidly melting snow, the route can become a shooting gallery of rockfall. The climbers attempted to descend, but decided it would be too hazardous given the conditions of the mountain combined with their own physical state. It was a good decision to ask for help before they got themselves into a worse situation.

Injured climber, Mt. Aberdeen, Banff National Park, August 13, 2011

A party of three was climbing the north glacier route on Mt. Aberdeen. They had ascended the initial 50 degree ice tongue to the main bench about half way up the route. The leader was transitioning from the ice to the summer firn line when he fell into a crevasse. The leader climber caught his crampon on the side wall of the crevasse which flipped him upside down. The approximate length of the fall was seven metres. His two partners on the surface were able to extract the lead climber in the crevasse by walking down hill while he provided assistance by climbing the side wall of the crevasse. Once the lead climber was extracted the group activated a SPOT device. None of the climbers had a cell phone or radio.

Banff Dispatch received notification of a SPOT device activation at approximately 11:45. One Visitor Safety Specialist was dispatched via helicopter from Banff, while two other specialists prepared gear in Lake Louise and drove it out to the staging area. The climbing party was located immediately. It was also noted that there was a separate party of two on the glacier as well. The Visitor Safety Specialist landed at the side of the glacier to talk to the party of two whom where close to the edge. The helicopter then returned to pick up the other two specialists. The rescue leader roped up with the party of two and walked over to the accident site. A quick assessment of the patient and situation was conducted. The rescue leader called for the specialists to set up for a long line rescue. One specialist slung up to the site, which had been carefully checked over for crevasses. A splint was placed on the injured climber as the helicopter was called back. The injured climber then slung down to Lake Louise and waiting paramedics. The remaining climbers then walked to the edge of the glacier with the rescue leader and was picked up by the helicopter and flown to Lake Louise.

The red circle indicates the location of the crevasse fall and subsequent rescue. 
 The red circle indicates the location of the crevasse fall and subsequent rescue.
© Parks Canada

Analysis

The group was taking all necessary precautions while travelling on a glacier. Transitions from ice to snow are notorious areas where crevasse bridge strength is very weak. Climbers must be wary of these locations and think critically about route choice. Also, SPOT devices, also known as Personal Locator Beacons are a good tool if used properly. However, one must remember it is one way communication and there is no certainty that a signal has been received, although the technology is quite reliable. It is best to take a cell phone where service is available and then default to a Personal Locator Beacon in more remote areas.

Rockfall injury, Mt. Fay, Banff National Park, August 11, 2011

Two climbers were climbing the Roth-Kallen route on the north face of Mt. Fay when one was struck by rockfall. He suffered a serious gash in his right knee and a closed fracture of the top of his fibula. The two were one pitch from the top and managed to finish the route and descend the west ridge arriving at the hut around 10:30 PM. Two ACMG mountain guides who were working in the area were at the hut and called for an evacuation on the radio.

Two Parks Canada Visitor Safety Specialists fly from Banff to the Neil Colgan hut at first light. The patient was evacuated to Banff hospital for stitches and X-Rays.

The north face of Mt. Fay.  The red circle shows the approximate location of the rockfall accident on the Roth- Kallen route.  Note the large cornices still overhanging all routes on this north face.
 The north face of Mt. Fay. The red circle shows the approximate location of the
rockfall accident on the Roth- Kallen route. Note the large cornices still
overhanging all routes on this north face
© Parks Canada 

Analysis

Rockfall is a serious concern on many alpine routes in the Canadian Rockies. Early morning starts on some routes are essential in order to climb before temperatures warm up and melting snow releases rocks. Some routes should not be climbed on warm days if there has not been a good overnight freeze. The summer of 2011 has been generally wet and cold, and there is still a lot of winter snow on many routes. This contributes to enhanced rockfall events as the melting snowpack releases loose rock that has built up throughout the winter season.

The climbing party showed that they had good self-evacuation capabilities in getting themselves back to the hut from the top of the route. However, they were lucky that there were ACMG guides at the hut who had an emergency communication device with them; otherwise, they would have been faced with a long descent the following morning. If the party had had a better emergency communication plan, they could have been rescued much earlier (the rockfall event occurred around 1130 am), and may have saved themselves a lot of suffering. As it turns out, there is cell phone service from most service providers on Mt. Fay at the accident site.

Scuba Diving Accident, Fatal, Lake Beauvert, Jasper National Park, Aug 7, 2011

On Aug 7th at 0900hrs, a scuba diving company was holding a course at Lake Beauvert. Six divers with a 1:1 instructor to student ratio were conducting an underwater circuit navigating a cirque feature at the bottom of the lake 60 feet down. Midway during the exercise, the group leader realised they were missing 2 people, an instructor and student. They began backtracking when shortly after, the missing instructor surfaces and declares a dive emergency stating that a diver has run out of air and not able to surface. A staff member on shore calls 911 to request assistance while other unrelated nearby divers respond overhearing the call. The instructor, who declared the initial emergency, re-submerges but has trouble locating the diver initially due to poor visibility as the silty bottom was disturbed. The instructor finds him unresponsive, face down on the bottom, and out of air. Due to his position and no air left, the instructor could not inflate his buoyancy control device or flip him over to release his weight belt. Other divers arrive and manage to release his weight belt. Between two instructors with full inflation of their buoyancy control devices, they are able to bring him to the surface. The patient had no pulse. They did their best to commence CPR in the water. Parks Canada staff arrive on scene with inflatable kayaks and quickly transport the patient from 80 feet offshore to the waiting ambulance. The patient had been without air for approximately 18 minutes. Due to the relatively short time without oxygen and being in cold water, all resuscitative protocols were initiated until he was pronounced dead 90 minutes later at the hospital. The divers who assisted were suffering from fatigue, shock, and possible slight decompression sickness. They were treated and released from the hospital.

Accident site

Analysis

Lake Beauvert is a popular location for scuba dive classes. The sport is inherently dangerous for obvious reasons. The exact cause of this accident is still under investigation by the Coroner and RCMP. The autopsy and dive equipment tests will not be available for 6 months. This was a very unfortunate accident. 

 

Stranded Scramblers, Cascade Mountain, Banff National Park, August 6th, 2011

At 7:45 pm, two male scramblers in their mid to late twenties set out to hike up the right side of Cascade Mountain Waterfall. One fellow was local and recalled hiking up to a ledge. He wanted to take his friend from Manitoba up to the same ledge. They wound up getting into climbing terrain and got to about 50 m below the top of the waterfall when they realized they weren't anywhere near the ledge the fellow had remembered and were now on a small ledge that they could not climb down from. At 10 pm they called for a rescue.

A Safety drills a bolt anchor in order to safely rescue the stranded scramblers.
A Safety drills a bolt anchor in order to safely rescue the stranded scramblers. / Parks Canada

Visitor safety spoke with the scramblers and immediately drove to the parking lot below to locate the climbers in dusk before nightfall. After speaking to them on the phone, it was determined that their ledge would be too insecure to spend the night. The rescue team decided to attempt to climb to the scramblers and had the cliff lit up by the Banff fire department and some high powered lights from Parks Visitor Safety equipment. At 1100 hours, the rescue team started their ascent up to the scramblers. They were able to scramble most of the ways, but then had to drill in a bolt station to belay a rescuer, who then climbed and placed 2 more bolts for protection in order to reach the ledge the stranded climbers were on. The rescuers followed roughly the same route the scramblers took. The rescue team reached the scramblers at 0025 hrs. The rescuers did 3 lowers to get the scramblers into terrain where they could be short-roped into hiking terrain. Everyone was back at the parking lot by 2 am.

The red circle shows the ledge where the scramblers became stuck.
The red circle shows the ledge where the scramblers became stuck. / © Parks Canada

Analysis

The scramblers did not have much experience and it can be easy to mis-judge terrain or not recall it correctly. Often, terrain that seemed easy to climb up can be difficult to climb back down.