American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Missing Climbers—Cause Unknown, British Columbia, Rocky Mountains, Mount Robson

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 1986

MISSING CLIMBERS—CAUSE UNKNOWN British Columbia, Rocky Mountains, Mount Robson

On August 17, 1984, Nicholas Vanderbilt (25) and Francis Gledhill (29) ascended the lower slopes of Mt. Robson to the hut 1500 meters above Killey Lake on the southwest side of the mountain. A snowstorm and heavy weather kept them there for three days. At 0500 on August 21, they set out in clear weather for the rock and ice of Wishbone Ridge. That night, lights were seen on the Wishbone Ridge from the Robson Parking lot. It was estimated that their bivouac was at 3300 meters, about 650 meters below the summit. The next day, another climbing party spotted them about 3500 meters. They were climbing in snow on the north flank of the Grand Couloir, southeast of Wishbone Ridge, still under favorable weather conditions. They were never seen again.

A helicopter search was begun after the climbers’ safety registration expired on August 27. The participants were RCMP in Valemont, Mt. Robson Provincial Park Rangers, and later Jasper National Park Wardens. Searches were conducted from August 28 to September 1, but poor weather prevented searching effectively above 3200 meters. A sleeping bag was located in the Emperor Bowl, northwest of Wishbone Ridge. The sky cleared on September 2, and the searchers finally had a clear view of the summit and all the approach and descent routes. Nothing was found. Wishbone Ridge was examined once more before the search was called off.

The next summer, park wardens spent the day of July 19, 1985, in a renewed helicopter search for the bodies. The winter snow was gone and visibility was excellent, but no sign of the climbers was found. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service)


The climbers were experienced, well equipped, and well informed, although their experience in the Canadian Rockies was limited. Since Robson is a mountain of some objective danger, accidents cannot totally be prevented. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service)

(Editor’s Note: Publication of this account was delayed a year in the hope that last summer’s search would reveal the nature of the accident. This was not to be.)

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