American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rock, Hypothermia, Bad Weather, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Louis

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1982

FALLING ROCK, HYPOTHERMIA, BAD WEATHER

Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Louis

On November 20, 1980, after a late start and a somewhat slow ascent, Steve Langley and two companions, Lorene and Jay, reached the summit of Mount Louis, where they met Helmut Microys and Ronny Factor. The five of them decided to rappel off together and the first five abseils went smoothly.

The following is an edited version of an account written by Langley:

I was first down the penultimate rope length and found myself on a small sloping ledge in the fall line of a trickle of water. The ground was only 60 feet away, so, ignoring my ever dampening sweater, I tied in and proceeded to redrive the fixed pins and fit a new sling.

Helmut arrived next; then, as Lorene started down, the heavens opened and a violent hail and rainstorm started. Helmut, Lorene and I managed to get our rain jackets on but Jay and Ronny were not so fortunate. They were still on the stance above and had not bothered to tie in. The storm was causing a cannonade of rocks to fly down the gully which prevented them from removing their packs and getting their rain gear.

The trickle of water had now become a torrent, and rocks of all sizes were crashing down the gully. By the time the five of us were cramped on the ledge, it was apparent that we were in serious trouble. The rockfalls were showing no signs of easing and we were continually being hit about the head and upper body. Ronny and I were now forced to stand in the waterfall and he still had not managed to get his jacket on. The stance was so small and sloping that it was now impossible to get anything out of the packs.

In the lulls between rock slides, first Helmut and then Jay safely reached the ground. Lorene started to rappel immediately after a big slide. She used the classic Dufler method and was descending slowly when she was hit by the next rockfall. She did not feel the rocks strike, although her helmet was badly chipped and cracked, an elbow broken, the other arm cut and fractured and her clothing ripped in many places.

Ronny and I were now both showing signs of hypothermia. I came down next and Ronny last. He had practically lost the use of his hands and had to use his teeth to get the figure eight on the rope. As he came down, his legs hung uselessly below him and his hands, clutching the rope, scraped against the rock. When he reached the ground, it was obvious that he was close to entering a coma and we had to do something for him fast.

Among the four of us, we managed to get enough dry clothing to redress him; then Jay ran out to raise a rescue party. Lorene had one arm (the wrong one) put in a sling and Helmut and I alternately carried and cuddled Ronny. The ropes were left on the mountain and packs, helmets and discarded clothing were left strewn on the ground.

We feared that if Ronny lost consciousness he might die, so we decided to keep him moving. In what seemed like an amazingly short time, he showed signs of improvement; his speech became coherent, he joked a little, complained a little and our spirits soared. All this time Lorene was having to make her own way down the muddy slopes in EBs; numerous falls did nothing to ease the pain in her arm.

Before too long, Ronny was able to walk with some assistance from Helmut and I was able to help Lorene. Meanwhile, Jay had raised the wardens and they sent in a helicopter.

Unfortunately, we were in the bush when the chopper flew past and did not meet our rescuers until we filled out the accident report the next day. (Source: Steve Langley, “The Chinook,” Calgary Section ACC, December 1980)

Analysis

The episode ended well with no one suffering permanent damage. But what had we learned? We were in the wrong place at the wrong time; that was obvious! Should I have cancelled the climb when the original plans (two ropes and an early start) fell through? Should I have taken a relative beginner on a route with such a technical descent? If Factor had been tied in when the storm started, he could have gotten his waterproofs on and would not have been as badly hypothermic. And if Lorene had been quicker on the rappel, she might not have been hit. (Source: Steve Langley)

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