American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall in Crevasse, Unroped, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, French Glacier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1991

FALL IN CREVASSE, UNROPED

Alberta, Rocky Mountains, French Glacier

A party of three was traveling, unroped, down the French Glacier on the morning of August 13, 1990, when one of them, D.D., fell into a crevasse. He was unable to extricate himself, but managed to hook the lip of the crevasse with his ice ax for support while his two companions set up an anchor to hold him in place. Then one of them tended the anchor, and the other called for help with a radio which the victim had been carrying. Peter Lougheed Provincial Park officials got the call at 1300, and a ranger rescue party was sent to the Burstall Lakes parking lot, where they were met by a Canadian Helicopters unit at 1320. The rescuers and equipment were quickly flown to the accident site, where the victim was found to be too cold to assist them with his rescue. Additional anchors were established, and D.H. was extricated within ten minutes, then flown down to the parking lot, where he was transferred to an ambulance for transport to Canmore General Hospital. His injuries were bruises, cuts, scratches, and hypothermia.

Analysis

The party was led by a person who had knowledge of the area and was experienced in mountain travel, but the severity of crevassing is greatly underestimated by many travelers of the French-Haig-Robertson area. As well, strong winds had blown fine gravel over the upper section of the glacier, making detection of crevasses very difficult at ground level. This combination of factors resulted in D.H. misjudging his position. His fall into the unexpected hole and the absence of a rope resulted in exacerbating the situation. (Source: George Field, Alpine Specialist, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park)

(Editor’s Note: Other than the use of a rope, the only divider between safety and serious trouble would be a solid snow plug not too many meters down, or a crevasse so narrow that one only goes a short distance and can use chimney techniques to ascend. This group did not have crampons. Either a rope or crampons, or better still, both, may have made self-rescue feasible, and correct use of the rope would have made rescue unnecessary. To their credit, the radio may have saved a life, but it is no substitute for basic safety gear.)

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