American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Loss of Control—Voluntary Glissade, Unroped, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Fisher

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1993

LOSS OF CONTROL—VOLUNTARY GLISSADE, UNROPED Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Fisher

Fisher Peak (3053 meters) was the day's objective for Thomas W. (36) on July 22, 1992. He bicycled in from Elbow Falls with his friend J. M. to get close to the mountain as quickly as possible, and then they set off on foot up Shoulder Creek to approach the mountain from the east. Around 1430, the pair were traversing a cirque around the 2600 meter level when they encountered steep slabs which they had to descend. Thomas decided to slide down, but the slabs were covered with loose rocks and he lost control, then tumbled out of sight of his partner. He came to rest 100 meters below, on a scree slope. J. M. made his way down to the victim and found him unconscious, with erratic pulse, head and face injuries, scrapes and contusions on his body, and low, shallow breaths with gurgling sounds. Finding there was no more he could do for Thomas at the scene, J. M. hiked and bicycled back and reported the accident to Elbow Ranger Station at 1605. Immediately, the rangers began to assemble resources for a rescue. A helicopter was requested from the Alberta Forest Service nearby, and Bow Valley Provincial Park was notified that a sling-capable helicopter might be required. Also the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) in Calgary was informed, and their helicopter and crew were dispatched.

At the accident site about 1710, the AFS helicopter found it could not land at the bottom of the scree bowl below the victim's position due to gusting winds, so it dropped off two people at the valley bottom and tried again. But again it was unable to land, so it took everyone back to Little Elbow. Then the STARS helicopter attempted to land in the scree bowl, but it was also unable to do so. It returned to Little Elbow to wait for the sling helicopter and specialized mountain rescue team from Bow Valley. The Bow Valley unit arrived at Little Elbow about 1800, transferred appropriate gear, and lifted off for the accident site about 1825. It landed in a meadow below the scree bowl, and from there it transported two rangers, one at a time, to a location about 100 meters below Thomas. They reached him at 1900 and after checking him as thoroughly as possible, they agreed that he was dead. The body was loaded into a “Jenny” stretcher and lifted out on a sling by helicopter. As the winds had subsided by then, the machine was able to land in the scree bowl upon its return and pick up the rangers. (Source: D. Humphrey, Kananaskis County East District Ranger)

Analysis

Thomas was an experienced scrambler, but while like most scramblers, his aspirations expanded to great challenges like Mount Fisher, it seems he did not acknowledge the greater hazards those might present. Even talented enthusiasts would do well to associate any of the available alpine clubs or mountain schools for a while, even if only to learn the sort of fear which could have averted this tragic accident. (Source: Orvel Miskiw)

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