American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Rockfall, Alberta, Banff National Park, Mount Patterson, East Face

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002


Alberta, Banff National Park, Mount Patterson, East Face

On September 5, a party of three started early for a two-day ascent of this alpine grade IV, 5.6 route. The route involves climbing a few pitches of glacier ice followed by mixed climbing on snow and rock.

Part way up the lower ice tongue, one of climbers decided to turn around while the other two continued. At 2100, the third climber could see that the other two had only gained another 125 to 150 vertical meters and had not yet reached the upper rock face. On the second day the climbers continued. On one of the upper pitches rockfall from above hit one of the climbers, and he sustained a fractured arm. The climbers were able to take shelter in a nearby cave. The uninjured climber continued alone to the summit to summon help.

On the third day the party was reported overdue. A Warden Service rescue team responded and easily located the cave as the climbers had stamped “HELP” in a snow slope nearby. The rescue team was inserted below the cave by heli- sling. The victim was treated and then lowered out to where he could be evacuated by heli-sling. The second climber was found near tree line on his descent. He was flown to the staging area. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service)


Rockfall is a common natural hazard in the Canadian Rockies. Many routes become more dangerous as the day wears on and the sun warms up the mixed snow and rock faces. This party appeared to be moving quite slowly on the route, and their timing may have contributed to the accident. (Editor: Nancy Hansen)

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