American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Equipment Failure — Alberta, Banff National Park, Mount Aberdeen

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

FALL ON ICE, EQUIPMENT FAILURE

Alberta, Banff National Park, Mount Aberdeen

On August 20, L.S. (40) was guiding K.B. (61) on Mount Aberdeen. They reached the toe of the Aberdeen Glacier at approximately 0700. They moved together on a two-meter short-rope up 50 meters of firm snow and started to traverse 25-degree ice to reach a stance at the base of the steeper ice. K.B. slipped and L.S. held his weight easily. While K.B. was regaining his footing, L.S.’s crampon broke and they fell together down the glacier. After sliding for about 30 meters on the rock covered ice, L.S. was able to self arrest and they stopped at a small rock pile. K.B. had fractured and dislocated the head of his humerus and had back pain. After applying first aid to K.B. for several minutes, L.S. realized that he had broken his ulna and dislocated his radius (both lower arm bones) in the initial fall. L.S. was able to call the Banff Park Warden Service through the Lake Louise Ski area and request assistance. The climbers were slung out within the hour.

Analysis

Short-roping on low-angle ice and snow is standard practice amongst Mountain Guides. It is a necessary and effective tool that relies very little on equipment except for the rope, ice ax, and crampons. However, when the equipment fails or the techniques are poorly applied, the results can be catastrophic. In this case the crampons were very high quality (Charlet Moser S12 with heel binding and toe lanyard) but well used. The crampon strap broke on the outside of the guide’s left foot. His left leg was braced flat-footed on 25-degree ice to hold his own and the client’s weight, so when the strap broke the whole system fell apart. The strap looked like it had been cut, so it is possible it had been damaged while walking through snow covered rocks or while mixed climbing. The use of the radio in an area with an excellent mountain rescue service made the solution to a very difficult situation simple. (Source: L.S.)

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