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Avalanche, Hypothermia —Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Cascade Waterfall

AVALANCHE, HYPOTHERMIA

Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Cascade Waterfall

On February 4, 1984, two climbers completed without incident an ascent of Cascade Waterfall, a popular Grade III ice climb near Banff. They then decided to continue 200 meters further up the mountainside to investigate the spring source of the water.

Leaving the spring about 1630, they started a traverse left across rocky slabs toward forest and an easy descent. Part way across, one of the climbers (21) triggered a small Class II slab avalanche and was carried about 75 meters over rough terrain to the bed of the gully. He came to rest unburied in the tail of the avalanche, sustaining a broken ankle. The other climber descended the mountain in one and a half hours and notified the warden service.

Because of the danger of hypothermia to the victim, a helicopter sling rescue was carried out at night, something not usually attempted. (Source: Banff Park Warden Service)

Analysis

Steep, shallow snow over rock slabs should rarely be trusted in the Rockies, especially during the first half of the winter season. Since darkness falls at 1730 at this time of year, it would have been more prudent for the climbers to head down rather than go exploring.

The unhurt climber chose to go for help quickly because of the late hour, but he did not provide his partner with sufficient protection from the cold or immobilize his ankle. The victim was already hypothermic when rescued, and would have been in worse condition if a lengthy ground rescue had been necessary. (Source: Banff Park Warden Service)