American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Darkness, Inadequate Tie-In at Anchors, Alberta, Maligne Canyon

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1998


Alberta, Maligne Canyon

On March 18 at 2030, a party of three climbers were top- roping a waterfall in Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park. One of the climbers was experienced, a second was intermediate, and the third was novice. The fact that they were climbing in the dark was intentional on their part, and they were using headlamps.

The last climber to finish the route was removing the anchors at the top of the climb when he fell approximately 25 meters to the canyon floor.

Park wardens were notified at 2100 by one of the climbers in the party. Wardens and paramedics were on the scene by 2130 and shortly thereafter the victim was pronounced dead. Rescue teams ground evacuated the victim from the canyon floor.


It is difficult to determine the exact cause of the fall due to lack of direct observation, but wardens investigating the accident site believe the following scenario occurred:

Above the top of the waterfall, the ground slopes up steeply. A main anchor was established at the top of the waterfall. In order to set the top-rope anchor safely, the climbers had attached an 8mm line to a secondary anchor on the more level ground above the main anchor.

Two of the three climbers were at the bottom of the canyon, about to walk out. The third was at the top of the climb and was about to dismantle the system and hike out. He clipped into the safety line with a daisy chain attached to his harness, then dismantled the main anchor. At this point, he apparently leaned back against the safely line, thinking it still solid. With the main anchor removed however, the safety line was no longer attached at its bottom end. When the climber leaned back, he slid right down the safety line and off the end to the canyon floor.

Inexperience combined with climbing in the dark were key contributing factors in this accident. It is likely that with poor visibility the victim did not realize he had removed the integrity of the safety line when he dismantled the main anchor. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service)

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