American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rock, Alberta, Jasper National Park, Roche à Perdrix

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

FALLING ROCK

Alberta, Jasper National Park, Roche à Perdrix

On October 26, at 0700 J.H. (28) and M.L. (42) set out to climb the Diagonal Route on the west face of Roche à Perdrix. At 1100, they reached the summit and began a rappel down the Chimney Route on the North Ridge. The Chimney Route is equipped with rappel anchors and makes for a fast descent to the parking lot at the foot of the mountain. The team had two 60-meter ropes with them but used only one rope, as there were excessively high winds and they were concerned about getting their rappel lines stuck. After one 25-meter rappel, the two climbers met at a rappel station. J.H. tied the knots in the ends of the rope, threw the lines, and was about to commence the next rappel when he was struck in the head by a large free-falling rock. The impact drove him to his knees and left him unconscious. M.L. propped him up against the rock and checked for signs of life (which were present).

After approximately five minutes, J.H. regained consciousness, and returned to his feet. From this point, J.H. was able to move, though he was exhibiting a great deal of confusion. M.L. pulled the second rope out of his pack and used the two ropes together to lower J.H. down the remaining pitches in 50-meter lengths. After a very slow descent down the North Ridge, the climbers reached their car and went to the hospital. It was subsequently determined that J.H. had a concussion and a fractured vertebrae in his neck.

Analysis

The Chimney Route on Roche à Perdrix is a route that I have been on numerous times. The route is typically dry and rockfall is largely a rarity. For this reason, climbing strategies that are often applied to alpine routes with excessive rockfall dangers (winter ascents, climbing at night, etc.) are largely unnecessary. The fact that I was injured by rockfall on this route is, however, a strong testament to the fact that rockfall can occur anywhere and at anytime in the Canadian Rockies. For this reason, a good climbing helmet with the capability to absorb large top-impact forces is essential for alpine climbing. I survived this particular incident only because I was wearing a good helmet. (Source: J.H. and M.L.)

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