American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Slip on Ice, No Hard Hat, Inadequate Protection, British Columbia, Northern Selkirk Mountains, Mount Colossal

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  • Publication Year: 1993

SLIP ON ICE, NO HARD HAT, INADEQUATE PROTECTION

British Columbia, Northern Selkirk Mountains, Mount Colossal

On August 7, 1992, during the third week of the annual ACC General Mountaineering Camp at Fairy Meadows in the Adamants, the chief guide, Don V., a long-standing member of the ACMG, was leading a party of two rope teams on a climb of Mount Colossal (2940 meters). It usually involves a long traversing ascent of a steep snow slope, but this year low snowfall and warm weather left more rock and ice exposed than normal in this area, and that was the case on Mount Colossal. A talus slope at the bottom was followed by hard snow and steepening ice, possibly 50 degrees at the top.

While leading his group up this ice slope in threatening weather, from a belay about one rope-length above the rocks, Don cautioned them to take their time and watch the footing, but moments later he lost his own on a slope of more than 40 degrees after getting an ice block stuck between the front points of one crampon. He slid some 50 meters down the ice, unable to stop himself because of the hard surface, or be stopped by his party because he had placed no protection, until he ran into the rocks at the bottom. He suffered bruises, abrasions, lacerations to his legs and head, a twisted neck, and general soreness.

He was able to discuss the situation with his group and organize them to help him back to the camp. After being given first aid and suturing to his worst cuts, he stayed there overnight and was flown out by helicopter the next morning during the weekly Saturday exchange of clients, for medical examination. He was found to be not seriously injured, but took a couple of weeks off to recuperate. (Source: Various clients and leaders from the ACC GMC)

Analysis

The climb was being done in a common manner, so accidents like this could happen much more often than they do. A sloping sheet of ice is a bad place for a slip without protection because it is often impossible to self-arrest, even for a professional mountaineer, and especially for a roped party, where one person could take down the rest. When a slip happens, the little extra time taken to place even one ice screw per rope-length may suddenly prove to have been a good investment. Also, the victim was not wearing his helmet, and in view of the exposure and his eventual head injury, it would have been appropriate. (Source: Orvel Miskiw, with advice from C. Shokoples, ACMG Guide)

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