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Off Route, Inadequate Equipment, Climbing Alone, Weather, Inexperience — Alberta, Jasper National Park, Columbia Icefield, Mount Snowdome

OFF ROUTE, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT, CLIMBING ALONE, WEATHER, INEXPERIENCE

Alberta, Jasper National Park, Columbia Icefield, Mount Snowdome

J.R. (28) hitchhiked to the Columbia Icefields on February 20, and hiked to the base of the difficult and hazardous alpine ice route “Slipstream” later that day. At 0400 on February 21, J.R. started climbing. Conditions were good, and he reached the top of the route four or five hours later. Although he started the climb in good weather, when he reached the top, he was in a blizzard. Because he was climbing alone, he had planned on taking a rarely used descent route which avoided the heavily crevassed areas of the normal descent. Poor weather and darkness prevented him from finding the correct gully. He tried several gullies only to discover that he was at the top of cliffs too high for his rappel rope. Since J.R. had no bivouac gear or stove, he continued moving all night. At some point during his many ascents and descents, J.R. realized that his hands were badly frostbitten from holding the metal ice tools with soggy mitts. On the morning of February 22, he found a gully that brought him down to the Athabasca Glacier and he hiked out to the highway by 1600 hours. He then flagged down a passing motorist and was driven to the Mineral Springs Hospital in Banff. J.R. was treated for frostbite to all 10 fingers and other parts of his hands. He eventually had to get several of his finger tips amputated due to the severe frostbite.

In the meantime, J.R. was reported overdue by his roommate at 1000 on February 22. Details were sketchy about his destination; all that R.P. knew was that his roommate had gone to the Icefields, and possibly to Mt. Snowdome. Upon further investigation, it was determined that J.R. was likely attempting Slipstream. J.R. left a note with R.P., saying that if he was not back on Monday that something had gone wrong. J.R. was a very skilled ice climber with minimal winter mountaineering experience.

Wardens initiated an investigation, which included a ground search party skiing towards the base of Slipstream, and a helicopter response. The search party found no evidence of human activity, however visibility was poor due to high winds, blowing snow and obscured skies. The helicopter was on standby waiting for suitable flying conditions. By 1700, the helicopter was still grounded. At 0200 on February 23, R.P. called wardens to inform them J.R. had returned home, and was in the hospital with frostbite.

Analysis

Soloing has become increasingly popular, but there are several hazards that go along with it, aside from the obvious lack of belay capabilities. Most notably, the summit of Snowdome, as well as the lower glaciers, is riddled with crevasses, making unroped travel hazardous. The probability of staying healthy on the Columbia Icefields in bad weather with no bivouac gear is considerably reduced when alone. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service, victim)