American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Ice, Poor Position

Alberta, Banff National Park, Mount Wilson, Ice Nine

  • Accident Reports
  • Author: Parks Canada Warden Service
  • Accident Year: N/A
  • Publication Year: 2000

On January 24 a party of three had begun the first of pitch Ice Nine, a water ice Grade 6 route. One climber was leading, one was belaying from behind the curtain of the first pitch and the third climber was sitting on her pack watching the leader climb. When the leader was about ten meters up the pitch, a large hanging piece to the right of the route fell. It is estimated that this piece was about 36 cubic meters. The piece missed the belayer but hit the climber who was watching the leader. The main piece of ice hardly broke up and buried the climber under one meter of ice. She sustained severe crushing injuries. The two other climbers were unable to dig her out. They reached the highway in about ten minutes and flagged down a park snowplow operator who reported the incident to park dispatch immediately. Warden service rescue crews responded by ground and helicopter. It took over an hour to dig the victim out from under the solid ice using pneumatic hammers and picks.

Analysis

Falling ice is a major objective hazard in waterfall ice climbing. Overnight temperatures had been –25° C. However, it was a sunny day and the southern exposure of the route resulted in significant radiation effect. Unfortunately, the victim was standing directly underneath the hanging ice curtain. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service)

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