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Fall into Crevasse, Inexperience, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Bow Glacier

FALL INTO CREVASSE, INEXPERIENCE

Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Bow Glacier

On the afternoon of August 8, 1986, two climbers were descending the Bow Glacier above the Bow Hut. They were roped 15 meters apart, traveling in a well-beaten track within sight of the hut. R.P. (30s), the less experienced climber, was ahead. He jumped over an obvious weak snow bridge. When R.L. (38) attempted to jump, the bridge collapsed beneath him, and he fell approximately ten meters into the crevasse before R.P. stopped his fall.

Lacking the knowledge and experience necessary to extricate him from the crevasse, R.P. used a water bottle to pound a warthog into the ice and anchored the rope to it. R.L. then attempted to prusik out, but his wet prusiks jammed repeatedly and progress was slow. He was able to raise himself about five meters, but could not get through the snow lip where the rope had cut in. With water pouring onto him from the melting snow above, he stood in his prusiks, put on his poncho, tied himself to an ice screw in the wall of the crevasse, and waited for help. R.P. ran down to Num-Ti-Jah lodge to report the accident.

R.L. was extricated by a Parks Canada rescue team just before nightfall, after spending over four hours in the crevasse. He was wet and mildly hypothermic, but otherwise uninjured. (Source: Clair Israelson, Banff National Park Warden Service)

Analysis

The accident location was the site of a fatal crevasse fall several years ago. R.L. was aware of this fact, and insisted on traveling roped even while walking in a well-beaten track. This action probably saved his life.

Glacial travel with a party of two leaves little margin for error. Both persons should be capable of setting up crevasse rescue systems, as the person falling into a crevasse may be injured and unable to survive until outside help arrives. A party of three or four is inherently safer.

Even though the weather was sunny and mild, R.L. carried emergency clothing and a poncho on his back. He ended up needing it. (Source: Clair Israelson, Banff National Park Warden Service)