FALLING ICE, POOR POSITION
Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Weeping Wall
On December 29, two ice climbers were on the second pitch of the left side of the Weeping Wall (grade IV) when the leader dislodged a chunk of ice onto his belayer. The victim, a 19-year old university student, was wearing a helmet, but was struck on the back of the head when he ducked, and was knocked unconscious. It was a busy day at the Weeping Wall, and nearby climbers helped to lower him to the base of the climb. He was evacuated to Banff by helicopter, and then transferred to hospital in Calgary. He had suffered a severe concussion, but recovered.
Proper location of the belay is one of the essential skills in waterfall climbing, since falling ice is almost a certainty. The main variable is the amount. On an open face like this, the belay should be off to one side, the longer the pitch, the more to the side. If the belayer still finds himself in the line of fire, he can obtain additional protection by holding a pack over his head, especially jamming it against the ice wall to eliminate an opening where debris could bounce off and hit him.
The Weeping Wall is one of the most popular ice climbing areas in the Canadian Rockies, with an approach of just a few minutes from the road on a packed trail. But it is about 160 kilometers from the nearest hospital, and emergency response time is at least 1.5 hours. Add to this the travel time of the reporting person to the nearest telephone, and the serious implications of ahead injury become obvious. (Source: Tim Auger, Banff National Park Warden Service)