British Columbia, Mt. Sir Donald

Publication Year: 1965.

British Columbia, Mt. Sir Donald. (See accident report) The victim, James Given, was given first aid for hip and leg injuries and considerable back pain. Fear of a fractured spine made a request for a litter evacuation necessary. A party of French-Canadian climbers on an adjacent peak were made to understand the need and went for help. Due to language difficulties, their report to Illicillwaet Campground was misunderstood and the victim was believed to be only 200 feet up, rather than the actual 700 feet. As a result, sufficient equipment and clothing were not carried, nor were there sufficient men experienced in technical climbing. The victim was reached about 5:00 P.M., and though it had been snowing all day visibility permitted the evacuation to start. Given was lowered a few hundred feet, but the party was overtaken by darkness before completing the rock descent. During the operation one of the less experienced rescuers rappelled from an untested piton which pulled out, and fell about 80 feet. Fortunately, he was using a rappel brake, so did not go off the end of the rope. His injuries were not serious, eventually requiring only a few stitches.

The rescue party descended at 8:00 P.M., taking with them two of the climbers who were now suffering from exposure after 40 hours on the mountain, and reached base camp at 3:00 A.M. A member of the climbing party who had gone for aid the previous night returned during the afternoon and spent the second night with James Given.

About 2:00 A.M. two experienced climbers reached the bivouac with sleeping bags and food. From this time on, the victim was reasonably comfortable. The following morning the rescue leader, with one hour sleep, arrived with an experienced rescue party, and the victim was brought down to the glacier, where evacuation to a hospital was completed by helicopter. The rescue party was directed by the guide, Freddy Schleiss, whose work was commended by all those involved.

Analysis: This is the third report in two years in which a language difficulty has misled rescue teams. In two cases it delayed the dispatching of an adequate number of qualified personnel and of necessary equipment. This did not cause a fatality in either case; in other conditions it could! Intense interest in the immediate problem probably caused the failure to test a piton - this points up the recommended procedure of appointing a safety observer in rescues whenever possible.