Accident Reports - July 2012
A party of two climbers were descending the standard route on Mt. Lefroy around 6pm. When they were approximately half way down the route, one of the climber’s crampons fell off. His climbing partner was 15m below and started to ascend back up to his partner to help. As the lower climber was climbing back up, the climber with the loose crampon fell over, out of the bent over position, and started to slide. He knocked his partner off his feet and they both started falling down the face. They generated a small avalanche during this ordeal and one of the climbers describes “almost stopping, then a wave of snow would wash over us and push us forward.” This phenomenon occurred three or four times and the climbers became separated in the fall. The climber higher on the slope had a minor knee injury when he came to a stop, and began looking for his partner. He located his partner further down the slope. His partner was unconscious and had sustained a severe head injury. It also appeared that his helmet had come off in the fall.
The incident was witnessed by people staying in the Abbott’s Pass Hut. A small team of climbers went to assist the fallen climbing party. They brought with them a stretcher (stationed at the hut) and some first aid supplies. They were able to place the patient in the stretcher and carry him down-slope approximately 150m to a flat area, where they waited for rescue. The incident was called in by somebody who remained at the hut. This person had to climb up behind the outhouse to obtain a cell phone signal, as there is very poor reception at the hut itself.
After calling Banff Dispatch (403-762-4506 emergency line) the caller was transferred to the rescue leader (RL) on shift. The rescue leader collected information and mustered a crew of Visitor Safety Specialists from Banff and Lake Louise. A team of four specialists was airborne approximately 45 minutes after the accident had occurred. One specialist maintained staging logistics and security at the Chateau Lake Louise parking area while two other specialists responded to Abbott’s Pass with the rescue leader. The injured climber was located quickly; however, a thunder storm was brewing just behind the pass. After an initial assessment, a plan was made to act quickly, safely and professionally, in order to minimize the chance of the patient being caught out overnight in a storm. One specialist was dropped at the patient with gear to prepare for loading directly into the helicopter. The second specialist was flown down to the hut to locate the second injured climber, whose location and condition were unknown at that time. While this was occurring, the rescue leader flew down to the Plain of Six Tea House to configure the helicopter to receive a horizontal patient with the pilot. In the time it took the rescue pilot and rescue leader to configure the helicopter, the specialist on scene with the patient was ready for pick up. The RL came back with the pilot to the scene and the patient was loaded efficiently. The RL and the specialist traded places. The RL remained on scene with the other climbers and the specialist flew down to the staging area with the patient (where he was transferred to Banff EMS). The RL took the group down to the hut to meet up with the other injured climber and specialist. The remaining Parks Canada staff and the injured climber remained at the hut until the storm passed at which point they were all flown down to Lake Louise.
It is unknown what caused the climber to fall specifically; however, crampons falling off mid route are something to be avoided. Always ensure that safety equipment such as crampons is secured tightly. Checking twice and having the situational awareness to anticipate this type of incident likely would have prevented such an accident.
Additionally, this accident was initially responded to by a group of climbers nearby. Parks Canada cautions climbers to take it upon themselves to rescue and assist other parties who find themselves in trouble. We do recognize that in some cases, actions of nearby climbers can make a big difference in the outcome for people who have had accidents; however, if those actions are not thought through critically, vigilante rescuers can become victims, making the problem twice as big as it originally was. Therefore, Parks Canada urges climbers to think critically about situations and come up with a strong rationale for responding to accidents in their immediate vicinity. Rest assured that if the decision is made not to respond based on reasons of personal safety, climbers will not be held responsible for not responding. Parks Canada has professional rescue staff that will ultimately deal with all mountain related accidents. In sum, by using common sense and critical thinking, climbers need to make their own decision whether to respond to climbing accidents in their immediate vicinity.
To be clear in the case of this rescue, the actions took by the climbers at the hut were reasonable and safe and likely contributed to a better outcome for the climber who had fallen. Good job!
A group of three climbers was descending the normal route on Lefroy after making a successful summit. One member of the party was making a short traverse over some icy rocks and slipped. He was not wearing crampons. He proceeded to tumble for approximately 100m before miraculously stopping in soft snow. He had injured his right knee and right heel. With the assistance from the other two climbers he limped his way back to the Abbott’s Pass hut. The accident occurred at approximately 16:00 hours.
The climbing party decided to call for a rescue at approximately 21:00 hours. Being so late in the day, Visitor Safety Specialists were not able to respond by helicopter until first light the following day. Since the patient had only minor injuries, it was reasonable for him to spend the night in the hut and be evacuated by helicopter at first light. Two Visitor Safety Specialists were dispatched from Banff at 05:30 and were on scene at Abbott’s Pass by 06:30. The Visitor Safety Specialists assisted the injured climber to the helicopter who was subsequently evacuated to Mineral Springs hospital directly.
The climbing party chose to climb Mt. Lefroy quite late in the day. However, after being interviewed they indicated that conditions were ok for climbing, meaning the snow was not soft. More often than not, it is best to wait for the coolest period of the day to begin a climb with significant steep snow travel. However, it is unknown whether soft snow conditions were a factor in this incident. The cause of the fall was caused by a lack of recognition of the terrain. The climber made an error in judgment by making the decision to risk walking across an icy section without crampons. On the contrary, the lack of crampons may have prevented further injury to the climber. In sum, this climber was extremely lucky to have stopped after falling 100m. Had the climber not stopped in that exact location, he would have likely fallen the length of the entire West face whereby the outcome would not have been positive.
Injured climbers, Mt. Cory, Banff National Park, July 21, 2012
On Saturday, July 21, 2012, two climbers set off to climb a route on Bumpers Buttress west of Banff. They select the route ‘Short Jerky Movements’ which was located above the Spasm Chasm (local name). The two climbers were quite experienced. While climbing the third pitch the leader placed a small camming unit and was having difficulty locating other sound gear placements. About five meters above this piece of protection, for an unknown reason, the leader fell. The force of the fall pulled out the small camming unit which subsequently placed the entire force of the fall onto the belay station (factor two fall). The climber fell a total of 35m and was hanging on the rope 20m below the belay station. The lead climber was initially unconscious and the belayer noticed that the leader was bleeding significantly. The belayer, recognizing the severity of the situation, immediately tied off the lead climber and phoned Banff Dispatch. The dispatcher took initial information and transferred the caller to the Visitor Safety rescue leader on shift. The rescue leader and climber discussed the situation and it seemed reasonable for the belayer to lower out the injured climber down to the next station to wait for rescue.
© Parks Canada
After the rescue leader confirmed the location with the reporting person a team of three specialists flew from Banff. Rescuers were on scene in 40 minutes. One rescuer was long-lined into the accident location. The rescuer rigged the belay station and patient to be flown out. A second rescuer flew into the site and clipped onto the patient while the first rescuer released the patient with an Italian (munter) hitch. The patient was flown directly to a waiting ambulance. The pilot returned for the injured climber’s partner and the initial rescuer.
The climbing team had an appropriate amount of experience to undertake such a climb. However, on occasion, experienced climbers fall off. Upon follow-up with the lead climber who fell, they have no recollection of why they fell in the first place. There are a number of possibilities: 1) rock fall 2) breaking a hold and 3) slip. Fortunately, the climbers had protected the anchor by re-directing the rope through the anchor. The belayer placed a quickdraw on a highpoint on the anchor to prevent the load from impacting the belayer’s body directly. This manoeuvre likely prevented injury to the belayer. Also, the experience level of the climbers allowed them to secure the situation to enable rescuers to efficiently extract them. This was a great example of people displaying preparedness when they have an unlikely turn of events.
At midnight on July 20, 2012 the Visitor Safety Team was informed by the local RCMP of an overdue hiker who got separated from his party on the Akamina Ridge Trail and had not shown up at the trailhead. Interviews with several other members of the hiking group were conducted and a last seen point and possible intended route down to Wall Lake was mapped out. Two of the Visitor Safety Technicians hiked into Wall Lake to try and establish contact with the overdue hiker and eventually heard someone respond to the sound of a bear banger from high on the ridge between Wall Lake and Forum Lake. The Visitor Safety Technicians then made their way up steep terrain to the stranded hiker over the next couple hours reaching him just before dawn.
The hiker was mildly hypothermic, had several large scrapes from slips and slides on rocky terrain and was very hungry and thirsty. The hiker was dressed in a tank top, shorts, and flat soled canvas shoes. He had a cell phone but no other equipment or supplies with him.
Just after dawn a third Visitor Safety Technician slung into the rescue site, packaged the hiker and slung up to a flat area on Akamina Ridge. The two remaining Visitor Safety Technicians were also slung up to Akamina Ridge where all four people boarded the helicopter and flew down to the staging area at Cameron Lake.
© Parks Canada
The four hikers had minimal experience and very few supplies when they set out to hike the Akamina Ridge Trail which is 18.5 km long. They had become separated by the time they reached the more technical scrambling on the descent to Forum Lake. The most experienced hiker descended the regular route to Forum Lake in order to get back to work on time. The rest of the group, who did not have a map or know the trail, elected to descend steep rocky terrain to Wall Lake where they had begun their hike. Two of the party made it down to Wall Lake and hiked out. The fourth person who was about 45min behind them ended up stuck is some cliffs below the ridge at dark where he spent the night with no supplies.
Several things could have helped the group prevent this incident from happening. An earlier start would have allowed the group to stay together and still make it back in time to get to work. Having a map and making sure that all members of the group knew the correct route to take would have prevented the hikers from getting into the steep rocky terrain leading to Wall Lake. Each hiker being properly prepared for emergencies with good footwear, extra clothing, food, water and a flashlight would have allowed them to wait out the night with minimal discomfort and as well as signal their position to rescuers if needed.
Once lost and in the dark the hiker decided to sit still and wait until morning which was a very wise choice. This helped minimize the search area and reduce the chances of further injury. Fortunately for him the night was warm and calm and with the exception of a lot of mosquito bites and some bumps and bruises things turned out all right.
On the morning of July 20, 2012, a stranded climber called Banff Dispatch for a rescue. The climber had spent the night on a small ledge, immediately below the summit of Mt Whyte. After numerous attempts to down-climb to the Whyte/Niblock Col, the climber abandoned his descent, feeling too dehydrated and exhausted to continue.
Rescue personnel were contacted at 6:30 that morning and informed of the stranded climber. They flew from Banff and located the climber near the summit, along the north ridge. After setting up the long-line under the helicopter, one rescuer was slung in to the subject. The subject had a harness put on him, and then both were slung back down to the staging area below the peak.
The climber made a smart decision to stop when he could not recognize the correct gully to descend. Although he had ascended it earlier in the day, he had not looked back to landmark key features for his return. This is a very important thing to do, as things look much different on the way down than when you’re climbing up. Also, the subject was dehydrated and exhausted, carrying a heavy pack. Be sure to carry appropriate amounts of food and water to get you UP and DOWN the mountain, as well as the equipment that will assist you to survive in the mountains. Leave behind the heavy, non-essential items if they weigh you down.
Around 08.30 on July 12, 2012, one scrambler in a group of five dislocated his shoulder while climbing on ‘Tick Ridge’, Mount Crandell. The climber did not fall and was able to reverse his moves onto lower angle terrain, but was in a great deal of pain. After some discussion, a smart phone was used to find a number for the ‘Waterton wardens’ using a Google search. The results listed a now unused number and there was no answer when it was called. 911 was then called and a connection made to the Lethbridge Dispatch Centre and the Visitor Safety team in Waterton Lakes National Park.
At 09.10 Visitor Safety received the call. The GPS coordinates from the party helped confirm their location. The party had used a triangular sling to support the injury and minimize further aggravation. Visitor safety advised the party that if the injury and terrain allowed they should move down the mountain slightly to become more visible and easier to access. The party was given the cell phone number of the rescue leader and asked to call if they had any problems or further questions.
By 10.20 Bighorn Helicopters arrived from Cranbrook, B.C. and a reconnaissance flight was conducted. Because of the open spot chosen by the party and their use of high visibility flagging tape, it was easy for the visitor safety technicians to find the party and determine a plan of action. A phone call was made to the group to check up on the patient’s condition, inform them of the plan of action and advise them to stay off to the side of the clearing to avoid any rock fall generated by the helicopter.
At 10.35 the first rescuer landed on the sight and assessed the patient. A second rescuer was flown in immediately with a Bauman Bag and vacuum mattress. The patient was able to walk to a flat spot and position himself on the vacuum mattress for packaging. Even with gentle handling the patient was in extreme pain and the slightest touches or movements caused distress. The patient was secured laterally to the vacuum mattress and flown to the helipad at 11.00 where he was transferred to waiting Waterton EMS staff and brought to the Cardston Hospital for treatment.
Excess equipment was slung off of the ridge and the second visitor safety technician descended with the remaining four members of the party, reaching the road by 12.25.
Even the strongest and most experienced mountaineers can be injured unexpectedly. If an injury causes a fall when moving un-roped the consequences can be exceptionally severe. Carrying basic first aid supplies allowed this party to stabilize the injured limb which undoubtedly contributed to the patient’s comfort. The use of cell phone to call for advice in this situation was a critical move. It is always a good idea to call for help or advice.
Although it was only an upper body injury and the patient could walk a short distance in simple terrain, it would have been hazardous to both the patient, and the rest of his party to descend the rough terrain to the road. Some of the most serious incidents in the mountains occur as a result of problems compounding to a point that things are out of control when early correction may have avoided further mishap. Remaining available for further telephone contact allowed rescuers to stay up to the minute on the patient’s condition and inform the party about relevant hazards seen at the rescue site from the air. The use of high visibility flagging tape assisted the rescue team and pilot to see the party and gave the pilot some information on local winds.
If this party had researched the proper number to call for help their rescue would have happened more quickly. Remember that the phone number that was in use five years ago in the back of the guidebook or written on some random internet site may no longer work. If in doubt call before you go to check and make sure that all of the members of your party know how to call for help in an emergency.
While climbing the North-East Ridge of Mt Bell near the Lake Louise area, a party of two contacted Parks Canada and requested a rescue. Although starting early in the morning, they were only half-way up the route by 5pm. They stated their slow progress was the result of one team member being very nervous and not comfortable with the terrain. Eventually, this team member did not want to move up or down the ridge, and the decision to call for a rescue was reached.
Parks Canada received the call and responded via helicopter to Mt Bell. The climbers were located on the ridge at approximately 2750m, anchored to several pinnacles on the ridge. Rescue personnel landed at a staging area below, set-up the rescue sling equipment under the helicopter, and were slung onto the ridge near the climbers. Rescuers then climbed approximately 25m to the climbers and short-roped them to a pick-up location. Once this was done, the helicopter slung out 2 people at a time to the staging area below.
There were no injuries involved with this incident, but simple mistakes contributed to a rescue being performed. First, overestimation of their abilities: one team member had very little experience mountaineering, and when faced with exposure on a loose, narrow ridge, progress slowed to a crawl. Second, underestimation of the difficulty: the experienced team member had done the route nearly 20 years previous, and did not accurately remember how involved it was. This member stated, “I thought it was just a hike in the sky.” Third, underestimation of the length of the route: they were a fair distance from the summit at 5pm when they decided to stop where they were.
The climbers did do something right, though. They stopped and accurately assessed their situation. With one person paralyzed with fear, and the second person unable to guide them up or down the route, they called for assistance. An all-night epic of trying to get off the mountain, or perhaps worse, an accident, was avoided by getting evacuated.