American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Rockfall, Poor Position, Poor Judgment — Alberta, Jasper National Park, Mount Edith Cavell

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000

ROCKFALL, POOR POSITION, POOR JUDGMENT

Alberta, Jasper National Park, Mount Edith Cavell

On August 20, two climbers (F 43, M 54) began ascending the North Face route on Mount Edith Cavell. They began at 1500 on a hot day, when rock fall is at its worst. One of the climbers was hit directly on the head by a large rock, knocking her unconscious and causing her to fall approximately 100 meters to the glacier below. The climbers were not roped at the time, but both had helmets on. She was unconscious for about ten minutes. She suffered from amnesia and headaches the rest of the day. The pair bivouacked on the Angel Glacier for the night. The second climber subsequently suffered severe back spasms (a recurring problem) as a result of bivouacking on the cold hard surface, and could not go for help. They spent a second night on the glacier waiting for help to arrive.

The search for the climbers began when their registered check-in time came and went without their reporting in. The decision was made to bring in a helicopter after no evidence of the climbers could be found on the trail or with binoculars. A Bell 407 was brought over from Golden, and the mountain was searched by air. A warden was also dropped at the Verdant Creek/Astoria River trail junction to hike up the West Ridge of Cavell on foot. After an extensive search by air, the overdue climbers were found at their bivouac site low on the Angel Glacier. The helicopter was able to land at their location, and the climbers were evacuated to the staging area.

Analysis

The climbers did not depart the Cavell parking lot until 1000. They found the rock climbing up to the Angel Glacier to be quite tricky and therefore went slowly. They arrived at the base of the North Face route at 1500, and planned to climb the lower part of the route in the late afternoon and to bivouac on the large ledge halfway up the face. The weather was warm, and rock fall at that time of day was extensive. The lower part of this route is subject to a considerable amount of falling rock and ice. The climbers were well prepared and had done extensive research on this route. They had been to the base of the route three times prior to this attempt and were familiar with the terrain. Despite their experience and knowledge, they chose to ascend the most hazardous part of the face in the heat of the afternoon when rockfall is at its worst. This turned out to be a critical judgment error. Luckily both climbers had helmets on, which undoubtedly saved the female climber’s life. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service)

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