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Fall on Snow and Grass, No Communication, Weather, British Columbia, Selkirk Mountains, Anemone Pass

FALL ON SNOW AND GRASS, NO COMMUNICATION, WEATHER

British Columbia, Selkirk Mountains, Anemone Pass

On July 27,1986, the inhabitants of a mountaineering camp at 2100 meters awoke to a grey day with rain and low cloud. By 0800, the rain had eased off, and the climbers could look north across an alpine basin and glimpse the surrounding peaks and a small hanging glacier. While many opted for tents and books, five decided to go hike the basin, with no clear objective except to “get out.”

They headed west along a prominent ridge system leading to the pass at the head of Yellow Creek. At a ridge that required snow walking, kicking steps, and ice axes, one of them turned back. The remaining four climbers reminded each other to think about safety and technique. Descending the ridge to the pass was a pleasant glissade out of the fog. From the pass, they followed a ledge system that seemed to lead to the eastern extremity of the basin overlooking McNaughton Lake.

After their lunch stop, it was snowing in large wet flakes, but they decided to continue at a slow pace. At a small snowy side basin, they glissaded and practiced self-arrests. Then they headed up into fog and snow, above a short band of cliffs. At first they were walking on heather laden with wet snow or slush. Farther on, the slope became very steep and the heather turned to grass with wet snow.

At 1430, in a shallow gully, the second in line (30) lost the traction of her boot edge, and fell on her side. The person ahead called to self-arrest, and she rolled face-in to do it, but lost her grip on the ice ax. She slid out of sight very quickly, and fell about 150 meters. A search below the cliff band revealed that she had been killed by the fall. (Source: Michael Brewster, Kootenay Mountaineering Club)

Analysis

Moments before the fall, the last member of the group decided to head up to the top of the ridge to avoid the steep gully, and told the person immediately in front. Everyone knew that the hazard was building up, but there was no designated leader who, with the weight of responsibility, would act in a conservative decisive manner and order a halt or a discussion. A word from any of the four could have influenced the group to turn back, but they were all strong climbers, and may have been reluctant to express any fears that they had. In a hazardous situation, nothing should be left unsaid. (Source: Michael Brewster, Kootenay Mountaineering Club)