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Avalanche, Inadequate Preperation and Route Selection, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Andromeda

AVALANCHE, INADEQUATE PREPARATION AND ROUTE SELECTION

Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Andromeda

The morning of September 4, 1990, dawned with pristine clarity in the Columbia Icefields area. R.D. and J.E., both of Salt Lake City, Utah, had just arrived to do some ice climbing and were already en route to “Photo Finish,” a smear of ice on the northeast face of Mount Andromeda, when the first rays of sun began to hit the ice-capped peaks. At 0930, climbing roped but unprotected through the center of the “Big Bowl” of Andromeda, the climbers were just approaching the bergschrund below the left of the base of their climb when the snow cracked above and around J.E., who was in the lead. Carried along helpless by the flow, he was just able to glimpse his partner scrambling to reach the right margin of the slide before he himself was tumbled over a crevasse and jerked to a sudden stop, on top and alert. J.D. was nowhere in sight. Climbing back to the edge of the crevasse he had just flown over, J.E. realized the reason for his abrupt halt: about two meters down was a ledge piled with snow into which the other end of his rope disappeared—one climbing boot protruded from the pile. J.E. was able to dig out and revive his partner, but R.D. was in no condition to travel. J.E. left him anchored to the crevasse wall and went for help, contacting the Parks Service at noon.

R.D. was reached by helicopter at 1351 and evacuated by HFRS (slinging) techniques at 1429. Six hours after his accident, he was being treated for hypothermia and badly frost-bitten hands in the hospital in Jasper.

Analysis

During the first two days of September, over 30 cm of snow fell at upper elevations in the Columbia Icefield area. The icy summit of 3450 meter Mount Andromeda had been lashed by gale-force winds during the latter part of that storm. Ridges and faces had been largely cleared of the new snow, but a drift slab had formed in the more protected area of the bowl, and it was resting on a hardened base.

The climbers had started early, not speaking to Park staff about past or present conditions, not wanting to wait for the opening of the information office at 0900, lest the promise of a spectacular day be lost. Though both of them were familiar with waterfall ice, neither listed winter mountaineering in his experience. Had they been aware of recent conditions, or had they spoken to someone more knowledgeable of alpine ice or potential hazards, they may not have chosen the fresh snow field in the center of the bowl as their approach to the climb, an approach also exposed to an overhanging bulge of ice. (Source: Clair Israelson, Canadian Parks Service)