American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Weather, Exposure — Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Temple

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1985

FALL ON ROCK, WEATHER, EXPOSURE

Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Temple

On the morning of August 9, 1983, two climbers started up the east ridge of Mount Temple. MA. (30) had recently moved to Canada from Japan, and a female friend, M.Y. (31), was on a climbing holiday from Japan. Both climbers had mountaineering experience in Europe, the Himalayas and Japan. They had spent the previous day preparing for the climb and carried a full complement of gear and bivouac equipment.

By the end of the first day they were just below the prominent Big Step where they spent a comfortable night. The next day they continued on up to the start of the Black Towers, but set up camp when the weather deteriorated. A violent storm raged most of the night, but by morning the rain had slowed to a drizzle so they began to work their way through the towers. Progress was extremely slow in the wet, cold conditions. At 1800, M.A. was doing an off-balance traverse move when his hand holds broke loose. He pitched backwards and fell 25 meters into the near vertical chimney, breaking his leg and suffering internal injuries. M.Y. held his fall, and then managed to pull him up onto a downsloping ledge and cover him with bivouac gear. He was complaining of the cold and beginning to lose consciousness when she left to bring help.

Frightened and alone, M.Y. continued along the towers until dark, spending a third night on the mountain, now without food. She continued climbing the towers on the fourth day showing courage and tenacity to overcome the steep, crumbling rock.

A fourth night was spent just below the summit icefield. Exhausted and hungry, she had begun to make her way up the icefield on August 13 when she was spotted by rescuers.

The pair had not registered with park wardens prior to the climb, but their vehicle attracted attention after being parked for four days on the Moraine Lake road. Examination of the vehicle indicated that it belonged to mountaineers and an aerial search was initiated. After M.Y. was spotted, a radio was dropped to her by helicopter. Communications with her were translated by tourists from Japan who passed by the staging area, and later by a translator who was also a mountaineer. After the details became apparent, a rescue group was slung onto the mountain to pick up M.Y. and locate M.A. When he was located, a rescue team, including a physician, was slung into the Black Towers and the physician was then lowered to the victim, who was found to be dead. Sometime after M.Y. had left, M.A. had rolled off the sloping ledge. He was found lying in the steep chimney supported by the rope. Cause of death was exposure and shock, complicated by venous stasis—blood pooling in the legs. Venous circulation was impaired by the leg loops on the harness after he had slipped from the ledge. (Source: Clair Israelson, Banff National Park)

Analysis

Although the climbers had moved relatively slowly due to heavy packs, they were well equipped to handle the longer duration of the climb. But they were apparently unaware of a quick, easy detour around the Black Towers, which would have been preferable given the poor conditions. On the day of the fall, the climbers were cold, wet and moving on treacherous terrain. After the fall, M.Y was unable to raise M.A. onto a suitable bivy site.

Failure to use the voluntary registration system increased the delay from the time of the accident to the start of the rescue.

One final note reflects on the attitude of certain climbers. On the day of the rescue operations, a second group of climbers was moving onto the summit icefield from the East Ridge. Their reaction upon seeing the rescue helicopter was to flash a common visual signal of displeasure. They continued a short way along M.Y.’s trail, then made an obvious detour around her, although she was in plain view and a rescue operation was obviously starting. (Source: Clair Israelson, Banff National Park)

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