American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Fall on Rock, Failure to Follow Route, Protection Pulled Out, Alberta, Ghost River Area, Bonanza

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004


Alberta, Ghost River area, Bonanza

On September 6, a party of three were climbing Bonanza, a 5.8 gear route located in the Ghost River area. About midway up the route the leader, J.I. (34), got off route and climbed into increasingly difficult terrain. He placed three pieces of protection before he fell. The uppermost piece, a nut, pulled out and the leader fell approximately 25-35 meters. He struck his head on the rock while falling and was stopped by his belayer at an elevation a few meters below the belay stance. His party managed to get him over to the sloping ledge near the belay stance. The victim was losing consciousness. A nearby party of two guides had witnessed the fall and climbed up to the belay to assist. Before long they began CPR.

Another witness descended to a point where he could get cell phone reception and called 911 and was transferred to Warden Dispatch. A first- party Warden rescue team flew into the scene and began to set up at the top of the route for a technical rock rescue while a second helicopter in the area for fire duty was dispatched to bring in paramedics and a second rescue team. The rescuer was lowered to the patient and the patient was secured in the Baumannn bag. Because of the steepness of the cliff it was not possible to directly extract the rescuer and patient from the accident location, so the main rescue line at the top of the cliff was attached to the HFRS (long line) system and the entire package was heli-slung to the valley bottom. Paramedics examined the patient and he was pronounced dead at the staging area.


Even with a guidebook, route finding on limestone is sometimes very tricky and often an easier looking section that is off route turns out to be more difficult and the climbing may also be loose and very difficult to protect.

The group had a discussion about where the route went from the belay and had come to a consensus that it must go up to the left when, in fact, a non-obvious traverse leads around the corner to the right. The leader was wearing a helmet at the time of the fall, but it was not enough to prevent a fatal injury. Had his last piece held, he may not have struck his head in the fall.

Cell phone coverage in the area is intermittent. It was fortunate for the party that they had a cell phone and managed to make contact, as it is 25 kilometers over rough gravel road to the nearest land line. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service, Bradford White)

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