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Rappel Anchor Failure, Fall on Ice, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Tangle Ridge, Centre Stage Falls


Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Tangle Ridge, Centre Stage Falls

Around mid-day on November 26, 1992, Pat S., who was a Park Warden, Mountain Guide, and Public Safety instructor with the Canadian Parks Service in Jasper National Park, and Lisa P., a warden from Banff National Park, left their vehicle to hike in to an ice climb on the west slope of Tangle Ridge, about 100 kilometers south of Jasper. Their objective was a 50 meter sheet of ice known as “Centre Stage.” They were out for an easy recreational climb on their day off and Lisa's first attempt at waterfall ice.

After bushwhacking to reach the ice, the ascent was made routinely, and Pat lowered Lisa along the north side of the climb from a three-point anchor. Then he moved across to the south side of the ice to set up an anchor for which he used a single 30 centimeter piece of conduit. Lisa saw the ropes come down from the top, although Pat was out of sight on an upper step of the formation, about 50 meters above her. Seconds after the rappel ropes dropped, she saw Pat fall to the base of the climb. She assessed his injuries and used a radio from his pack to alert the Jasper Park Warden Office to the situation. At 1550, wardens at the nearby Sunwapta Station monitored her call and began to respond. The initial report of the victim's injuries included a broken femur, a head injury, cracked ribs, and a fractured wrist, but while the closest rescue party was still en route, the report changed: first to difficulty breathing, then to loss of consciousness, then lack of pulse. Lisa began CPR immediately and maintained her efforts for over 45 minutes until the first party arrived on foot to assist. The Canadian Parks Service contract helicopter, racing against the approaching darkness from its base in Valemont, B.C., reached the area a few minutes later and within ten minutes the victim was evacuated to the advanced life support unit waiting below. A back-up helicopter and rescue team from Banff, only minutes behind the first machine, had to set down at the Columbia Icefields for the night. A pulse was never restored, and Pat was declared dead on arrival at the hospital in Jasper.


Public Safety Specialists from both Banff and Jasper investigated the accident site around 1300 the next day. Only the one anchor point could be found at the victim's rappel station. He had been no more than four or five meters into the rappel when the conduit pulled out. A deformity at one end of the tube may have been caused by impacting on rock. The ice was warm and wet, and it is believed that similar conditions the previous day may have contributed to the failure. It appears that this mature veteran of many underwater, underground, and mountaineering exploits (and rescues) gambled on a one-point anchor. We think he would want you to know. (Source: Canadian Parks Service, Jasper National Park)