Canada: Rocky Mountain

Publication Year: 1952.

Canada: Rocky Mountains. Lake O'Hara District. On 17 July 1951 a party of six left the Alpine Club of Canada's camp at Lake O'Hara to climb Mt. Odaray. After about six hours, the gully just below the summit was reached. The first rope, led by Dave Young, climbed the gully using a rock point on the left hand side of the gully as in intermediate belay point between the base of the gully and a belay point on a ledge slightly above the gully 50 feet below the summit. Harry Moss, leader of the second rope, did not use the rock point as a belay point. As Moss neared the top of the gully his rope was running out and the second man moved up the right hand side of the gully a short distance and gave Moss a shoulder belay. Meanwhile the third man on his rope was waiting at the foot of the gully. When Moss reached the top of the gully a rock collapsed beneath his weight. The second man on his rope was pulled off his feet and dragged down a short distance. The fall was stopped by the second man's becoming wedged in the narrow chimney at the foot of the gully and by the third man who had anchored his rope around a rock.

After Moss regained consciousness, one companion re-mained with him while the others descended for the additional manpower which they decided would be required to raise Moss to a point from which descent could be effected. Young raced ahead to summon help. At 3 o’clock the following morning, thirteen hours after the accident, a rescue party arrived at the scene. It was headed by Walter Perren, a professional guide, and under his expert supervision Moss was raised by rope slings to a point from which he was able to walk down the mountain to Odaray Plateau. He was then put on a stretcher and carried to camp. Twenty-eight and one-half hours after the accident, he was hospitalized at Banff. It was found that he was severely bruised and cut.

Five broken ribs were not discovered until six weeks after the accident when it was determined that they had penetrated the pleural cavity and caused bleeding as he walked down the mountain.

Moss is a member of the Mazamas. Both he and Dave Young are climbers of many years experience.

Source of information: account by Harry W. Moss in "Mazama", December, 1951, and account by another member of the party.

Analysis. Accidents of this kind usually result from failure to exercise the ordinary precaution of treading tentatively on rock of questionable structure, a measure which seems especially advisable in many parts of the Canadian Rockies. The victim of this accident, however, believed that his chosen stance was sound as he had observed the first party's uneventful passage over these rocks. Failure to use the intermediate belay point and the use of a shoulder belay by Moss’s second man may have contributed to the seriousness of the accident. Successful application of a direct rock belay by the third man in this instance should not be construed as evidence supporting the use of this type of belay for safeguarding the leader. For such purpose, the direct rock belay may be unsound. In this case the shock of the fall was partially absorbed by the second man. The use of a direct belay to anchor the second to a nearby rock while he gives the leader an indirect body belay or piton belay is in accordance with good technique .

This accident illustrates the ever-present danger of loose and unstable rock and the need for constant vigilance to detect it. Even the most experienced mountaineers are not immune to this danger, as Moss himself has emphasized. The accident further illustrates the principle that in roped climbing especially each member of a mountaineering team is responsible for the security of his party, and should pay constant attention to the proper handling of his rope.