American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Ice, Poor Position, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Temple

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987


Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Temple

On August 3 or 4,1986, a party of two was climbing the North Face of Mount Temple. Climbing conditions and weather were excellent, with clear skies and moderate temperatures. The route was in excellent condition.

The climbers ascended the snow and ice Dolphin to the traverse ledge at 3000 meters elevation. They then followed the ledge well past the north ridge, to a point near the center of the bowl below the icefall. Tracks found near their highest point suggest that they were attempting to climb diagonally up and left toward easier ground to the east.

A section of the overhanging ice cap, as large as several houses, released above them, carrying them down 600 meters to their deaths. The climbers were reported overdue on the evening of August 5 by a Parks Canada resuce team. (Source: Clair Israelson, Banff National Park Warden Service)


About 30 meters above the traverse ledge, a seven millimeter rope sling with a carabiner on it was found jammed around a rock. Because of the steepness of the rock face and the speed of the falling ice, neither this site nor the traverse ledge was scoured by the icefall. In the ice deposit on the foot of the face, there was a sling with two carabiners on it, with a wired #4 hex on one of the carabiners. The rope between the climbers was fully out, and one of the climbers had a Figure-8 in the belay mode on his harness.

From the evidence, it appears that the belay had been established on the rock face above the traverse ledge. One of the climbers (27) had led the pitch to easier ground above, and the other (36) was dismantling the belay station when the ice fell. The lead climber was hit with the full force of the ice, and as he was carried away, he pulled his belayer with him.

The major factor contributing to the accident was the decision to climb across the bowl under the icefall rather than to climb the technically harder but less exposed north ridge. Icefalls are extremely difficult to forecast, and overhanging serac fields should always be regarded as suspect, regardless of recent weather influences.

When exposed to icefall, the hazard can be reduced by using the protection of steep terrain where falling material will be deflected overhead. Had both climbers been on the traverse ledge or at the belay site, they would likely have escaped unharmed. (Source: Clair Israelson, Banff National Park Warden Service)

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