American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Slip on Ice, Inadequate Protection, Bad Weather, British Columbia, Rocky Mountains, Mt. Robson

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1981


British Columbia, Rocky Mountains, Mt. Robson

G. Holdsworth and D. McClung reached the top of the Kain Face on Mt. Robson at 8 a.m. on July 21, 1979. As they reached the top of the face, whiteout conditions prevailed reducing visibility to less than half a rope length, whereupon they decided to wait for better visibility before proceeding. They waited until 11 a.m., and with no prospect of better visibility, they decided to descend. The whiteout conditions combined with oppressively hot weather and an easterly exposure produced the optimum conditions for release of avalanches on the face. This prompted the decision to descend without placing protection for the belays, which meant that only overhead belays would be effective. Avalanches were sweeping the face during the descent.

After descending about ½ or 2/3 of the face, McClung slipped on the ice, could not arrest and took Holdsworth and himself to the bottom of the face. McClung suffered a broken ankle which was the only injury of importance. He was picked up by helicopter and taken to Jasper the following morning. (Source: G. Holdsworth)


The face should probably not have been climbed during such warm weather with conditions as they were—namely, wet snow covering the face, which made the ice in poor condition to accept ice screws. Secondly, descending without proper protection during avalanche prone conditions increased the potential for accident. The conditions forced too hasty a descent which was the main cause of the accident. The climbers might have waited until evening to descend, when it might have been possible to place proper protection. It should be noted that neither climber was wearing a hard hat. This was luckily of no consequence in this accident, but could have been fatal if rocks had been struck on the fall. (Source: H. Holdsworth)

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