American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Climbing Unroped, British Columbia, Selkirk Mountains, Grays Peak

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999


British Columbia, Selkirk Mountains, Grays Peak

Two climbers departed the Gibson Lake parking lot in the early morning of July 16 and traveled through dense bush for several hours to the base of the west face of Grays Peak. Their objective was to traverse Grays Peak via the Southwest Ridge.

The weather was clear, with the temperature at 14 degrees C, and a light wind blowing from the southwest. During the night, extensive dew had formed, so both the brush and the granite slabs were wet.

Upon reaching the base of the face, the climbers put their helmets on and began scrambling through fourth class terrain on the west face towards the ridge crest. The climbers were moving beside one another to minimize rock fall exposure. They arrived at a sloping, grassy bench 20 meters deep that bisected the face. One moved into what appeared to be a steeper section of terrain, while the other continued upwards. “A few minutes later I called down to J. and he said he was going to traverse over to where I had ascended.” She continued 80 meters higher and waited just below the ridge crest. Ten minutes passed. She heard the distinct sound of a falling object, but no call.

The time was 1105. She scrambled 50 meters back down to the bench on the west face where she expected to find her fallen partner. Upon reaching the bench, there was no sign of him and she received no reply to any calls. She searched the area extensively and then from the edge, saw him 70 meters below on the steep face. He was not moving, lying on his chest on a small ledge with his legs tangled among some small sub-alpine firs.

Since her partner had the rope in his pack, it took some time for her to reach him. Assessing his injuries, she determined that he had a fractured neck, fractured lumbar spine, fractured right femur and extensive lacerations. His level of consciousness (LOC) was low.

She removed his pack, repositioned him, supported his head and neck and covered him. It was 1210, and they were at an elevation of 2000 meters. She assessed the site for rescue potential and then proceeded to descend 650 meters to the Gibson Lake access road for assistance.

She reached the road at 1250 and was picked up by a local doctor and driven 14 km to the West Kootenay Parks office. National Parks was contacted and dispatched from Canmore with long-lining equipment. A local helicopter was deployed from Nelson with medical equipment and a mountain guide. The helicopter picked her and the doctor up and they returned to the accident site at 1545.

The rescue team flew over the west face and could see clothing and equipment, but no sign of the injured climber. On the third pass, he was seen 20 meters below on the edge of the steep cliff face. The team was dropped on the bench above and descended to him. He was in an inverted position with his helmet and most of his clothing removed. He had sustained head injuries.

The team rigged a series of fixed lines on the cliff edge and secured him. National Parks arrived on the scene, and the victim was long-lined down to Gibson Lake and then transferred into the first helicopter and flown to Nelson. A trauma team flew from Vancouver and transported the victim to Vancouver General Hospital.


The injured climber remembers no details of the fall. Since he did not call out, both climbers assume he either slipped on the damp granite or a foothold broke loose and he was knocked out immediately. He survived an initial fall of 80

meters and then a series of second falls. His back fracture/dislocation (at T-12 and L-l) indicates a fall directly onto his back with his legs folding forward.

He was wearing a fall pack with both his chest and waist strap buckled up. This pack absorbed a significant portion of the impact. His helmet was very well secured after the initial fall. This accident is an excellent example of how even though the climbing may not be that technical for competent climbers, the consequences of a fall in this terrain can be extremely serious.

The weather and time of day contributed to the positive outcome of this rescue. Long-lining equipment is not available locally and was a critical component of the extrication from the cliff face. It is doubtful if the victim would have survived overnight if sling rescue had been unavailable. He received surgery to realign the spine. After rehabilitation, he has made a full recovery.

The route was not in ideal conditions. Even though they were in fourth class terrain, a rope would have been a good idea. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service)

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