Scrambler stuck on a cliff, Cascade Waterfall, Banff National Park, April 26th 2015

On Sunday April 26th, 2015, Banff dispatch received a call from a group that was scrambling below Cascade Waterfall. They had heard cries for help from above and made contact with a lone scrambler who was ~ 60m above them in technical terrain and couldn’t climb down or up. The scrambler was uninjured and sitting on a ledge. 

 
Scrambler was stranded on a sloping ledge at the arrow.

The call was transferred to the Visitor Safety (VS) Specialist on call for the day who quickly established that this was likely not a false alarm. A second VS Specialist went to assess the situation with binoculars from the parking lot and decided that a helicopter was the best way to access the site. The helicopter from Canmore was called in to a staging area at the Banff airstrip below the climb.

Three VS Specialists got on board and assessed the scene from the helicopter. They decided that the best way to access the site would be to heli-sling into a small ledge ~10m above and to the left of the stranded scrambler. The ledge was small enough that they didn’t feel comfortable disconnecting from the heli-sling line without anchoring into the wall, so the first rescuer slung into the site and drilled a bolt while remaining clipped into the line. Once the bolt was drilled, the first rescuer clipped into the bolt and unclipped from the helicopter. Next, the first rescuer prepared a two bolt anchor to receive the second rescuer.


Two bolt anchor at ledge that the first rescuer initially slung into.

Once both rescuers were on site, a rescuer was lowered down to the scrambler and put a harness on him and clipped him into the rope. Next, both the scrambler and the rescuer were belayed back up to the initial anchor that they had slung into. The scrambler and one rescuer were slung off the initial anchor using a releasable hitch anchoring technique to transfer their weight from the rock anchor to the helicopter. The remaining VS Specialist rappelled and then was picked up in non-technical terrain. 

 
View from where scrambler was stranded back to the two bolt anchor.

Analysis

This scrambler made a few common mistakes that we can learn from:

  1. It is much more difficult to climb down than it is to climb up. Unfortunately many people don’t realize this until they reach a difficult part that they can’t climb up, and then when they go to turn around they realize they can’t climb down either.
  2. Scope your line from the bottom and have a realistic idea of how difficult the terrain is compared to what your capabilities are. If you are scrambling/ climbing without a rope than there is no margin for error and very few options for retreat.
  3. Scrambling alone is much more dangerous than with a partner. If something goes wrong and you are alone, you have nobody around to help/ report you. This scrambler was lucky enough that there was another group below who was able to call for help.
  4. Always carry a communication device. This scrambler had a phone, but it was in his pack which he tossed off the cliff when the climbing became too difficult. If he had his phone with him, he could have called for help earlier and VS could have talked to him and reminded him to stay where he was and that help was on its way.
  5. Bring appropriate gear for your chosen activity. This scrambler had no harness, gear or rope and poor footwear for climbing on rock. If you are going into technical or exposed terrain, bring a harness, helmet, rope and gear and know how to use it. Learn from experienced people or hire an ACMG guide to teach you!

In the end, the scrambler did the right thing by realizing he was out of his comfort zone and staying put until help arrived. If he had tried to downclimb in that loose, technical terrain, there is a good chance he would have slipped or broken a hold and fallen.