American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rock, Alberta, Jasper National Park, Mount Athabasca, North Ridge

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003


Alberta, Jasper National Park, Mount Athabasca, North Ridge

On August 21, Jeff (age unknown) and Andrew (33) were ascending the North Ridge (III 5.5) of Mount Athabasca. After crossing the North Glacier they ascended a short snow/ice gully to the ridge proper. While changing the rope from glacier travel mode to climbing/short-roping mode, a natural rock- fall occurred. A rock hit the victim on the helmet, dazing him. The rockfall also knocked one of their ropes and a pack off the NE side of the ridge. They decide to continue, and the pair ascended short-rope style, using several tied-together slings, for several hundred feet, until the victim began experiencing a diminished level of consciousness. He could not answer simple questions from his partner, and became quite argumentative. His partner eventually managed to get him to stop and anchored him to the rock. From a ledge on the ridge, they began to call for help. A mountain guide climbing a nearby route heard their calls and notified the Warden Service using his VHF radio on the Parks frequency. Park Warden rescue parties were dispatched from Jasper and Athabasca Falls warden stations, and a helicopter was put in motion. After doing a reconnaissance flight and locating the party on the ridge, wardens were slung into the site with first aid gear. The victim was assessed and spinal immobilization was applied. Two more wardens were slung in with evacuation gear. The subject was packaged in a vacuum mattress and Bauman Bag, oxygen was administered, and he was evacuated by heli-sling to the roadside staging area.


Rockfall is a common occurrence in the Canadian Rockies, and a significant hazard for climbers, although ridge routes such as this one are usually a relatively safer bet. Wearing a helmet undoubtedly saved the victim’s life in this instance. They may have done better to take more time and assess their situation and their condition more thoroughly after the rockfall incident. It was fortunate that an ACMG guide was nearby and was carrying a radio with access to Parks frequencies. (Source: Jim Mamalis, Park Warden, Jasper National Park and R. Stephen Jobe—a climber who witnessed the incident)

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