American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Placed No Protection, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mt. Deltaform

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1979


Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mt. Deltaform

Jock Richardson (19), Cam Cairns (19), and Mike Down (20) started at 0330 hours on 17 August 1977 to climb the first steep pitch on the north face glacier route on Mt. Deltaform. Richardson led the first pitch which began as solid 60-65 degree-ice and eased off toward the top. He was belayed by Cairns, who was tied to an 80-centimeter ice axe sunk to the hilt in hard snow, but placed no protection; near the end of the pitch he put away his ice hammer. At the end of the 160-foot lead he slipped. He tried to stop his fall with his ice axe; his front points caught, throwing him backwards into the air, head downward. He fell about 80 feet through the air and landed on his back near the belay and continued to slide another 150 feet until stopped by the belayer. After stopping the fall, Cairns tied off Richardson and belayed Down down to give first aid. Richardson had a broken right hand, cuts on his face and hands, and a badly bruised back and chest.

They descended the route in two hours, with one man lowering Richardson on tension and the other helping Richardson and scouting the route in the darkness. At the foot of the route, Richardson was placed in sleeping bags, and one man went to Moraine Lake for help. The Lake Louise Warden Rescue Unit evacuated Richardson by helicopter at 1015 hours. (Source: Mike Down and Cam Cairns)


The fall would have been much shorter if the leader had placed protection which was easily available. Protection on technical ground is particularly important to protect the belay anchor, as well as to protect the leader.

In this accident the belay anchor was an ice axe sunk to the pick in hard snow, and it is amazing it did not fail when the rapidly falling climber was stopped by the belayer. The relatively light injuries were due to Richardson’s wearing a helmet and a large, well-padded pack which absorbed much of the impact of the fall. (Source: Mike Down)

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