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Fall Into Crevasse, Unroped, Inadequate Equipment, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Freshfield Glacier

FALL INTO CREVASSE, UNROPED, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Freshfield Glacier

On the afternoon of March 29, 1989, four ski tourers were descending the Freshfield Glacier unroped when one of them fell into a crevasse. The others climbed (still unroped) back up to where she had disappeared. They were starting to rig a rescue system, when G. W. (39) fell through the snow bridge into the same crevasse. He fell 15 meters, and was wedged upside down in the bottom of the crevasse.

With two members of his group trapped in the crevasse, the group leader P.D. (50) faced a difficult situation. He rappelled down to G.W., who was alive but seriously injured. He tied a rope to G.W.’s improvised harness (one-inch tubular webbing) and prussiked back to the surface. Lacking carabiners or pulleys, he had to extricate G.W. without mechanical advantage. He pulled him up on a single rope, while the remaining party member took up slack with a prussik. This extremely tedious procedure took about three hours. G.W. died shortly after being rescued. (His body was later recovered by a Parks Service rescue team.)

Finally, the first skier to fall into the crevasse was rescued unharmed by the two survivors on the surface. (Source: Banff National Park Warden Service)

Analysis

Skiing downhill unroped on glaciers, although an increasingly common practice in the Canadian Rockies, is a very risky business. A free fall into a crevasse often has fatal consequences.

The need for a safe working area is fundamental when initiating a crevasse rescue. Only after the working area is thoroughly probed and marked with wands should rescuers unrope and start rigging a rescue system.

A minimum amount of rescue gear should be carried by any group traveling on glaciers. (Source: Banff National Park Warden Service)

(Editor’s Note: While not a climbing accident, we include this narrative as an example of what can happen to skiers who find themselves in a mountaineering situation.)