American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Cornice Collapse, Unroped, Bad Weather, Off Route at Night, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Temple

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

CORNICE COLLAPSE, UNROPED, RAD WEATHER, OFF ROUTE AT NIGHT

Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Temple

On September 12, 1992, James H. (38) and Charles B. (30) met at Moraine Lake to climb the East Ridge of Mount Temple. They set off at 1300, intending to bivouac above the Big Step and finish the climb the following day. They bivvied as planned and resumed the climb at 0800 on September 13. Early snows had encased the mountain in winter conditions, making the climbing slow and difficult, so that the climbers did not reach the summit until 0400 September 14. Due to blizzard conditions, they started down from the summit right away, but unfortunately went the wrong way, taking a rib that led them toward the north face rather than the northeast ridge, the normal descent route. They started out roped up, but soon dispensed with the rope as the traveling appeared to be straightforward. Both continued to wear their crampons over the snow and rock. James slipped and fell into a cornice. It collapsed and he slipped over the edge.

Charles looked for James for a while, but could not spot him, so he resumed the descent to get help. As it was getting light, he then realized that he was on the wrong ridge, so he crossed over to the correct one and continued. By that time, the climbers were overdue, and National Parks Wardens had commenced a search. Charles was picked up by helicopter and evacuated to Moraine Lake at 0800. The search team later spotted James’ body at the bottom of the north face of Mount Temple. The cornice which had collapsed under him was right at its apex. The body was slung out to Lake Louise later that morning.

Analysis

James was an experienced mountaineer with many winter ascents, and both climbers were well prepared. But both were fatigued after some 20 hours of continuous climbing, and James was not wearing his prescription glasses due to blowing snow and the cold, whereas he had previously always worn them. Bad weather and the darkness may have also contributed to the wrong choice of route for the descent. (Source: Banff National Park Warden Service)

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