American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall in Crevasse, Climbing Unroped, Inadequate Equipment, Alberta, Jasper National Park, Athabasca-Andromeda Glacier

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

FALL IN CREVASSE, CLIMBING UNROPED, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT

Alberta, Jasper National Park, Athabasca-Andromeda Glacier

On September 5, P.P. and A.B. departed the climber’s parking lot below Mount Athabasca at 0430 to climb Mount Athabasca via the Athabasca-Andromeda col. On reaching the toe of the glacier they roped up and put their crampons on. They had 25 meters of 8mm rope. Much of the lower glacier was clear of snow, and the crevasses could be easily avoided. As the snowcover increased they found travel arduous as their footsteps punched through the poorly consolidated snow surface. Higher up on the glacier they started to walk on rock deposits along the flank of the glacier below Mount Athabasca. Feeling that they were safe from crevasses on the rock, they unroped. Traveling on the rock was awkward with crampons so they moved back onto the glacier and continued unroped. They found the snow more consolidated at this elevation of approximately 2900 meters. A.B. was following P.P.’s track when he stepped through a poorly bridged crevasse and fell 22 meters. The time was approximately 1100. P.P. established voice contact with his partner, who reported that he was on a snow bridge and had hurt his chest. Lowering a rope end to his partner, A.B. tied in. There was insufficient rope-end left at the surface to set up a crevasse rescue system. A.B. was unable to ascend the rope due to his injuries. Putting on extra clothes, A.B. got into his emergency shelter as his partner ran for help. At 1320 the Jasper Warden Service was notified. By 1525 a rescue party of six Park Wardens had been helicoptered in close to the accident site on the glacier. Using a mechanical winch a Warden was lowered to A.B. who was secured to a line at 1605. He was hoisted to the surface without complication by 1620. A.B. was flown to the staging area below Mount Athabasca where he was transported by ambulance to the Jasper hospital. His injuries were cuts and bruises.

Analysis

All the glaciers in the vicinity of the Columbia Icefields are in a rapid state of retreat. This contributes to the highly crevassed character of the glaciers. This party should have roped up once they left the rocky flank of the glacier. They believed they were traveling on ice, but it was in fact consolidated snow. Second, the rope they were using was not long enough to set up a crevasse rescue system. A.B. was very fortunate not to have been injured worse during the fall. He was also fortunate he was not wedged at the bottom of the crevasse or buried by the falling snow bridge. Crevasse bridges at this time of year are often very weak. Recent snowfall had masked signs of sagging snow bridges over crevasses. (Source: Jasper National Park Warden Service, R.W.)

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