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Falling Rock, Bad Weather, British Columbia, Rocky Mountains, Mt. Bryce


British Columbia, Rocky Mountains, Mt. Bryce

Hector Allison (27) and Norman Letnik (22) started climbing the 7,000-foot north face of Mt. Bryce on 1 August 1979. On the first day, they climbed the first 4,000 feet and bivouacked near the start of the 50° ice face. On 2 August, Allison was struck by a rock fall as he was belaying Letnik on a ridge and sustained a compound fracture of an arm. They bivouacked on the ridge and awaited rescue. On 4 August, they thought they were lost, and Letnik went for help. He traversed 600 feet of steep ice solo to leave the face.

On the same day, they were reported overdue by friends with whom they had made casual arrangements, and a helicopter search was started on 5 August. Allison was sighted about noon, and Letnik was found struggling along the summit ridge in deteriorating weather, and was picked up by helicopter. By that time, the mountain was being hit periodically by storms bringing snow and wind, thus making helicopter slinging impossible. In the early afternoon, a rescue team was landed on a small hanging glacier on the face at the same height as Allison, but separated from him by 600 feet of 50-55° ice. Clair Israelson and Cliff White led the horizontal traverse while the other wardens prepared to rig for a horizontal recovery of the victim to the glacier. Midway through the rescue, ice broke from near the summit and swept through the rescue team, hitting several members with large chunks but causing no serious injuries. At 1700 hours, the party reached the victims, and during a lull in the storm all were slung directly off the ridge by helicopter. (Source: T.Auger)


Rescue from the major alpine faces of the Rockies is a difficult proposition. This party was lucky that the weather broke enough to allow the rescuers to traverse the face to reach them and for the helicopter to pick them up. The only other way to reach them would have been from the summit ridge 1,500 feet above, and this would not have been possible for several more days because of the weather.

The party had made casual arrangements with their friends regarding their return and were expecting rescue sooner. Climbers undertaking such major tours must realize the extent of their commitment and be prepared for extended, forced bivouacs in case of trouble. (Source: T. Auger)