American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, British Columbia, Rocky Mountains, Massey Ice Fall

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1989


British Columbia, Rocky Mountains, Massey Ice Fall

On January 9, 1988 (temperature -15 degrees C), Edward and Rick (both 29) set out from the Field railway crossing and started up the normal route on Massey, a grade 3 climb on the north side of Mount Stephen. On the first pitch, Edward placed two ice screws (primary: a 6 cm narrow Salewa 4 cm into the ice; secondary: a Lowe ’Rat’) and continued to climb.

The accident occurred at 1130 when Edward was about three meters above the bulge and five meters above the ice screws. He was moving vertically onto easier terrain. When he set his right ice ax, the implant caused “dinner-plating” to the extent that the left ax was released as well, and he fell. It appears that during the fall, his left leg became tangled in the rope, and his left crampon dug into the ice wall. The belay stopped his fall of about ten meters. The primary ice screw was found to be bent but intact. Edward suffered a fracture of the tibia and fibula of his left leg at boot level.

After helping his partner down to the railway tracks and leaving him well dressed with all their gear, Rick walked back to Field along the railway tracks. On his way, he met three climbers on their way in, and they agreed to stay with the victim. The warden service had rail traffic halted, and rescued the injured climber with snowmobiles. (Source: H. R. Abbott, Yoho National Park Warden Service)


Edward, the leader, had about ten years of ice climbing experience, mostly in Scotland. Rick had about three years. Edward’s decision to attempt Massey was based on his conversion of the scale of difficulty found in a Canadian guide book to the ranking system used in Scotland. He felt that perhaps as a result he had underestimated the difficulty of the climb. (Source: H. R. Abbott, Yoho National Park Warden Service)

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