Fall on Rock—Foothold Broke, Protection Pulled Out, Alberta, Jasper National Park, Tonquin Valley, Mount Oubliette

Publication Year: 2004.


Alberta, Jasper National Park, Tonquin Valley, Mount Oubliette

A.M. and I just got back from the Tonquin where (I believe) we did the first ascent of a direct start to the Beckey (East Ridge) Route on Mount Oubliette. The route was approximately 450 meters long and 5.9. We had intended to do the upper ridge, but it rained until well after our wake-up time. By 8:00 a.m. on August 29, the sun was out and drying things out quickly. We went to have a look at the direct, and before we knew it were well on our way. An initial wide crack up the lower slab and more low angle stuff led to the large left facing corner that is obvious in the Select Alpine Climbs guide picture. We followed this on generally good rock (though quite dirty in places) and avoided several roofs on the right. On the last technical pitch, A.M. took a huge lead fall when a lot of rock gave out under her weight, pulling her top piece. The fall came on the last pitch of 5th class, about 350 meters up the route. A.M. was up about 40 meters on what had been generally good rock, at an easy grade. She is a competent 5.10 trad leader, but without much new route experience. She started to encounter some blocky, loose looking rock and dodged some of it to the right, but then took on some more in a steep bit. Fearing its instability, she started to down-climb a bit onto something she thought would be stable with a downward force. This whole section (approximately 50 pounds) broke free and sent her on her way. Her top piece was a #0 (purple) T.U. which was placed in blocky rock. She is fairly certain it held for a fraction of a second and thought perhaps the rock falling on her was the extra force required to pull it. Having talked about the situation more afterwards, based on where the half way mark was in the rope, it was at least a 60-foot fall. A large nut, also in somewhat blocky rock, held the fall. The rope was a 70-meter 9.4 mm Beal, which fortunately sustained only minor damage just above her tie-in point. The impact of the fall badly bruised her buttocks and it was the falling rock that appears to have done most the damage to her right leg.

At the time, it seemed as though she had torn ligaments in the leg, since it would support no weight in a flexed position. I tried to evaluate her disposition where she ended up, but her movements and coherence quickly ruled out head and spine injuries. She was lowered to the belay. I took cover in a shallow corner when she yelled, “Falling!” and could hear the amount of rock coming down. I sustained minor second-degree rope burns on the inside of my right thumb, but was not hit by rock. Badly shaken and with a pretty much useless right leg, we reluctantly calculated that finishing up and then descending the normal approach climb to the Beckey would be easier/safer than ten rappels. With the help of T3s and a lot of guts, A.M. was able to slowly second this pitch and then the following 120 meters of mostly 3rd and 4th class to the base of the Beckey. A.M.’s descent to the base of the mountain and the very slow progress over boulder fields back to the camp at Surprise Point was awe inspiring. This involved crappy ledge traverses, lowers down couloirs (one through a water fall which soaked her), bollard rappels over questionable snow bridges, a lot of sliding over rock strewn glacier ice at 30 degrees, and even some piggy-backing. This lasted from about 7:30 p.m. until 3:45 a.m. (We did not have radios.) After the self-rescue back to camp, I went to the nearest lodge looking for horse service out of the area, but was put in touch with the wardens via satellite phone and they arrived only 45 minutes later. In the end, it turns out that the worst injuries were contusions caused presumably by the rock fall. One very nasty wound left a fairly deep opening that projected parallel to the skin’s surface. It is better that it hit her than the rope! (Source: C.F., partner of A.M.)