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Avalanche, Fall on Snow and Rock, Poor Position—Unsafe Conditions, British Columbia, Yoho National Park, Mount Burgess

AVALANCHE, FALL ON SNOW AND ROCK, POOR POSITION–UNSAFE CONDITIONS

British Columbia, Yoho National Park, Mount Burgess

On April 21, a party of two had ascended the south-facing, avalanche-prone slopes of Mount Burgess. The day was very warm, resulting in one of the first major isothermal avalanche cycles of the spring. The party was descending about ten minutes apart. When M.K. reached the first avalanche slope they had traversed while ascending, he saw that the slope had avalanched and realized that J.M. had been carried over the large cliff below. He retraced their ascent route but was unable to find his partner. He then returned to the highway to report the accident. The Park Warden Service was contacted just before dark at 2030. Due to the high avalanche risk, it was not possible to search

the area by ground that evening. An air search was begun at first light. J.M. was located on top of the debris from a large second avalanche. He had been carried over a large cliff by the first slide which triggered the second avalanche. He was unconscious and barely alive when Park Warden rescuers reached him. He was severely hypothermic (his core temperature was measured at 25 degrees C later that day), and he had suffered an almost complete amputation of one lower leg. The victim was stabilized, flown to the Banff Hospital with the rescue helicopter and transferred to a Calgary hospital by air ambulance. He had fallen a distance of 300 meters. He later recalled being partially buried in the second avalanche and digging his way out with his ice ax. He recalls trying to stay awake, but eventually lost consciousness.

Analysis

It was an extremely warm day with many large spring avalanches running. The party had underestimated the avalanche risk and were on the slopes too late in the day. It is speculated that when the victim hit the lower avalanche slope after being carried over the 300-meter-high cliff face, the ensuing avalanche may have provided a cushioning effect which likely contributed to his survival. There is also speculation that the hypothermia may have reduced the amount of bleeding from his severely injured leg. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service)