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Avalanche, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Temple

AVALANCHE

Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Mount Temple

On August 9, 1993, two experienced climbers, Matt and Julie Culberson (both 35), started up the Aemmer Couloir on Mount Temple (3545 meters) at 0700, planning to do the East Ridge route in one day. Climbing very quickly, they were three quarters of the way up the couloir, at an elevation of about 2900 meters, when they were hit by a wet snow slide and carried back to the base of the route. Both were seriously injured and unconscious for some time.

Julie Culberson had multiple injuries, including a broken femur, and would be unable to move. Matt had broken ribs and chest injuries. Later that morning, he started down a scree basin toward treeline and a trail leading out to the road. He passed out a number of times and was able to travel only a short distance. Rain and then snow began. Two days later he was discovered by a party of hikers, still mobile and staggering toward the trees. When Warden Service rescuers reached his wife a short time later, she had already died.

Analysis

1993 had a cold summer, and an unusual amount of snow remained on the peaks in this region. As a result, the couloir the victims had been climbing had a deep narrow trough in it; caused by avalanches running down its length. Temperatures had remained well above freezing during the previous night, and the first rays of morning sun likely started debris falling off the walls of the gully. The survivor recalled that they had felt fairly safe cramponing up the trough because of the early hour. They were in it when the avalanche occurred. When they heard the slide approach, they had confidently expected to stand up to it by setting their tools in the sides of the trough. As it turned out, however, the force of the wet debris stripped them off their stance. Using the runnel to travel in saved time but was risky as its sides are usually steep, making escape difficult.

The climbers had been confident in their ability to complete the route in a day, and as a result they had light packs and no extra survival gear. They had not left word of their plans with anyone or used the registration system offered by Parks Canada. This is a case where it might have made a difference. (Source: Banff National Park Warden Service)