American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Slip on Snow, Climbing Unroped, Unable to Self-Arrest, Inadequate Equipment, British Columbia, Selkirk Mountains South, Mount Billy Budd

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

SLIP ON SNOW, CLIMBING UNROPED, UNABLE TO SELF-ARREST, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT

British Columbia, Selkirk Mountains South, Mount Billy Budd

On August 18, J.C. and G.H. departed from a climbing camp located on north side of Houston Lake on a “day off’ hike to Houston Pass at about 1200. J.C. was a very experienced mountaineer with between 20 to 25 years experience. The two climbers were outfitted with mountaineering boots and ski poles, but had no rope, helmet, crampons, ice ax, or climbing gear. Upon reaching the Pass, J.C. and G.H. followed the south-east ridge from Houston Pass that went over the Vere Summit to the summit of Billy Budd. The climbing was uneventful and was enjoyed immensely by J.C. and G.H. as it was a beautiful day. After resting at the summit of Billy Budd, J.C. and G.H. started their descent to the Houston Lake camp with J.C. in front, basically following the route of the previous day’s Mount Billy Budd climbing teams. They initially followed tracks across a glaciated section (crevasses easily identified and navigated around) and then scrambled down on rock outcrops. About 1815, mid-way down the descent, at a point about 250 to 350 vertical meters above camp, J.C. and G.H. stepped off a rock outcrop to again follow tracks, this time on a traverse of a northwest-facing snow patch. Within a few steps onto the snow, J.C. slipped and started sliding down the snow which had a pitch of 45 to 50 degrees. J.C. had no ice ax, was unable to self-arrest, and slid 300 meters on the snow—and then tumbled 20 meters onto the rock at the bottom.

Several members of the group went to the accident site. It was apparent that J.C.’s chances for survival were slim. On August 19, J.C.’s body was recovered by Alpine Helicopters.

Analysis

It is unclear why the climbers would choose to cross glaciated terrain unroped and why they carried neither crampons nor ice axes whilst choosing to be on snow slopes with an angle of 45 to 50 degrees as described. J.C. was found to have died from severe head injuries. It is unclear whether a helmet would have made a difference in the outcome in this case. It is also unclear whether the ability to evacuate the victim immediately by helicopter would have made any difference to the outcome given the injuries described. (Source: Greg Hill)

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