LOST, CLIMBING ALONE, HYPOTHERMIA, WEATHER, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT
Alberta, Columbia Icefield, Mount Athabasca
On Sept. 26, a lone climber took out a safety registration for a climb of Mount Athabasca, with a return time of 1200 the next day indicated, although the climber had no intention of over-nighting on the mountain. He was experienced, and successfully climbed the Silverhorn route. However, he was unfamiliar with the topography of the mountain, and a whiteout on the way up prevented him from viewing the standard descent route, which leaves the west ridge and follows a wide horizontal traverse to the right to avoid a large icefall.
From the summit, he started down the ridge toward the standard route, completely unaware of an alternative descent via the Athabasca-Andromeda Col, which could be reached by following the southwest branch of the same ridge down to the col. He had no trail to follow because of recent storm snow, and so traversed back and forth while descending, trying to find a way through the icefall. He did not go far enough down the ridge to find the traverse ramp, and was forced to bivouac at an elevation over 3000 meters, exposed to wind and snow overnight, with only a light nylon sack for protection.
When he failed to return on September 27, wardens became concerned, and proceeded at 1300 to search the mountain. By that time, the climber was severely hypothermic and unable to move, but he was able to wave his hand. The helicopter was prevented from landing by wind and poor visibility, so wardens were slung in under it to evacuate him. The pilot did a masterful flying performance in extremely poor conditions during the rescue. Paramedics who attended the victim estimate that he was within a half hour of death by hypothermia.
Although the climber was experienced, he did not research the mountain adequately, and so became stymied when bad weather prevented him from seeing where to go. Had he known about the A-A Col descent route, or the correct line of the standard route, he might have gotten down on his own and in good time, even in bad weather. In any case, soloing on a glacier is hazardous. Many people have fallen into deep crevasses on Mount Athabasca. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service)