FALL ON ROCK, LEDGE COLLAPSE, INADEQUATE PROTECTION— BELAY ANCHOR
British Columbia, Monashee Mountains, Gold Range, Gates Peak
Friday, August 26, 1994, was the last day of a nine-day climbing holiday in the remote Gates Peak area, south of Revelstoke, B.C., for D.M. (42) and B.D. (46). The two are moderately experienced climbers with a long history of hiking and backpacking. That day they chose a route they estimated at 5.6 to reach the Northwest Ridge of Gates Peak (2778 meters) on high-quality gneiss and snow.
A hike over heather and rock brought them to the base of a chimney at 2530 meters, where they roped up. D.M. led up the chimney, with snow and glacier ice to the left, while B.D. belayed him from a standing position, using an ATC brake with no anchor. D.M. placed three pieces of protection, and then, about 1500, when he was some five meters above the last piece—a Hex chock, he climbed onto a refrigerator-sized block. The block fell away and down the chimney, and D.M. with it. The Hex pulled out, but a taperlock lower down stopped his fall. The impact yanked B.D. upward and left, out of the way of the falling block, but injured his lower back and pelvis. The fallen leader, D.M., sustained chest injuries. After doing some initial stabilization of D.M., who was having trouble with breathing, B.D. descended to their camp for a sleeping bag, tent fly, and stove. He made D.M. comfortable and gave him warm drinks. About 2000, B.D. descended to the camp again to sort gear and rest for the nine-hour hike out for help in the morning. The accident was reported in Revelstoke at 1500 the next day. Helicopter pilot D. Wassick flew Park Wardens Eric Dafoe, John Flaa, and Tim LaBoucane, and PEP Coordinator Chuck Elliot, to the accident site in a Bell 206B Jet Ranger II. The victim was flown to a waiting EMS vehicle, where he was given initial assessment and treatment while the rescue team was brought down. D.M. was then flown to hospital in Revelstoke, where he was found to have thoracic injuries, including a hemo-pneumo- thorax, and hypothermia.
The climbers chose a more difficult route to the summit than the obvious Northwest Ridge direct because they “wanted to do something more difficult” for their last day, but it was well within their abilities. However, Gates Peak is seldom visited and their route is subject to frequent melt-freeze cycles, so loose rock could have been anticipated.
The protection and belay system were inadequate. Although in this instance the lack of an anchor may have prevented more serious injury when B.D. was yanked off his stance below the falling block, a proper anchored belay, away from the fall line, would have had the same effect and may have prevented the injuries he did sustain, by absorbing most of the impact. Inadequate survival gear was also noted, as heavy, wet snow fell during the night the victim spent alone, and he had to wait 29 hours after the accident before being moved to a warm location. (Source: E. Dafoe, Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Park Warden Service)