American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Avalanche, Inadequate Equipment, Poor Position, Failure to Heed Forecast, British Columbia, Rocky Mountains, Mount Field, Silk Tassel Falls

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

AVALANCHE, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT, POOR POSITION, FAILURE TO HEED FORECAST

British Columbia, Rocky Mountains, Mount Field, Silk Tassel Falls

On February 2, 1992, two parties of two set out for Silk Tassel, a grade 4 ice climb near the Trans-Canada Highway. Around 1200, they hiked to its base and began the 55 meter ascent. The two were climbing side by side when an avalanche swept over the top. Its main flow hit one party directly, knocking the leader off the route and dragging his partner out of his belay station at the bottom. The edge of the slide poured over the leader of the second party, but he managed to hang on to his tools and did not fall.

He and his belayer descended the route and the avalanche debris and quickly found the other belayer, partly buried and quite dazed. They dug him out, and all proceeded down the gully until they found the boot of the leader sticking out of the debris. Then one member of the second party ran back to the road for help and a shovel, while the remaining two started digging the victim out with an ice ax.

As this was happening, an off-duty ambulance attendant observed the climbers digging in the fresh debris and radioed the Warden Service to report the accident. A party of wardens was dispatched and the attendant drove in to the Field to get his ambulance.

By the time the rescue team had arrived at the accident site, the victim had been dug out after being buried for an estimated 30 minutes, and the climbers were doing CPR on him. As slides were running continually, he was moved to a safer area, and CPR was continued until he could be evacuated by helicopter. He was transported to hospital, but was pronounced dead of suffocation. He had sustained chest injuries, which may have contributed to his death. His belayer was also evacuated by helicopter and found to have a cervical spine fracture and a concussion.

Analysis

Three of the four climbers were very experienced. The avalanche hazard was forecast low in the morning, rising to high or extreme as daytime warming progressed. The weather forecast called for a record-breaking high temperature, and that did occur. At the time of the accident, it was 8 degrees C. The slope that avalanched was a low-elevation, southerly-aspect basin directly above the route, and wet avalanches were observed by the climbers before they started at noon. They did not have probes or shovels with them, and although they carried avalanche beacons, those were not activated. (Source: Terry Willis, Yoho National Park Warden Service)

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