STRANDED, DIFFICULT TERRAIN, INSUFFICIENT RESEARCH
Alberta, Clemenceau to Chaba River Trek
An experienced party of eleven climbers flew in to the Clemenceau Icefield in August, spent five days climbing and exploring, and then started hiking out north toward the Banff-Jasper Highway. They made excellent progress over glaciated terrain, ending up on the West Chaba Glacier.
Their intent was to follow the West branch of the Chaba river to its confluence with the East Chaba River and thence down to the Athabasca River and out to the highway at Sunwapta Falls resort. However, the West Chaba river cuts a deep gorge below the glacier, and traveling beside or above this gorge is extremely treacherous.
The river was in flood, and crossing the river was out of the question. The group felt that to continue on their route would be unreasonably hazardous, and to backtrack would make any search efforts impossible. They therefore decided to stay put and wait for evacuation.
Due to the number of people in the party, the competent nature of the group, and the duration and complexity of the trip, it was felt by rescuers that being overdue by one day was not unreasonable. As a result, the party was given the better part of a day to hike out before a search was commenced. At 1700 on August 11, a search was started. With help from a detailed route plan provided to the searchers by the party prior to their departure, the rescue party was able to fly over the exact route the climbers intended to take, leading the searchers directly to the stranded group. The group was healthy and happy, but glad to see the helicopter, as they had been waiting at this campsite for three days and their food was getting low. The group was flown out to the highway.
The group was experienced and the trip leader had done background research on the route. However the information he had received was from a winter perspective. The canyon which blocked their way would be hazardous but navigable in winter, but much more dangerous in summer.
Attempting to negotiate the gorge with this large group would have been unduly dangerous and difficult. Their decision to stop and wait for evacuation was the best they could have made in the circumstances. The group was so appreciative of the evacuation that they offered, and did pay for the helicopter evacuation. The money received from this group has gone directly into enhanced SAR training for public safety wardens. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service)