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Falling Ice—Dislodged by Leader, Poor Position—Belayer, Alberta, Banff National Park, Weeping Wall, Center Pillar

FALLING ICE-DISLODGED BY LEADER, POOR POSITION-BELAYER

Alberta, Banff National Park, Weeping Wall, Center Pillar

On December 21, J.R. (23) was belaying her husband who was leading up the second pitch of the Center Pillar area on the Weeping Wall in Banff National Park. The leader was about 30 meters above her when he dislodged a large piece of ice which hit J.R. directly on the head. The incident was witnessed by a party that was at the same level and about ten meters to the left of J.R. at the time.

T.D., who was with the witness party, described the incident on an internet message board: “The leader of the party was 30 meters above the belay when he dislodged a 20-30-pound plate of ice which fell directly onto his belayer’s head. The impact was horrific and the belayer fell limp on the ice instantly. Within seconds she began to convulse/seize vigorously against the ice. After a brief discussion, my partner climbed quickly over to her stance to deliver any help that he could. Upon arrival at the belay my partner secured himself to the anchor and evaluated her. At first it appeared that she had suffered a fatal blow, but she made guttural noises that indicated an attempt at breathing. She was brought level, as she had slumped upside down. She then began to breathe on her own after her tongue was extracted from her airway.

“The leader at this point was obviously in shock, as his wife was near death, and he needed to be coached to build a multi-point anchor and begin rappelling to the belay. We determined that the victim was in need of immediate medical help and climbers at the base had already run for help. My partner and I arranged an assisted lower through the second belay down to the ground. At this time J.R. was semi-conscious and apparently stable. A 60-meter redirected lower to the ground was carried out. Climbers at the base had prepared a location for J.R. to be stabilized until rescue arrived. Wardens arrived on scene as the lower was completed and assumed control. A heli-sling operation was used to bring J.R. to an ambulance on the road where she was evaluated and then flown to Banff for treatment.”

Analysis

The quick actions of the nearby party no doubt had a very significant bearing on the successful recovery of J.R. Their actions are to be commended. T.D. summed up his experience: “ALWAYS keep the belayer safe from falling ice. The leader had positioned his belay under his line of ascent. Don’t risk your life or the lives of rescuers in an accident situation. Build extra anchors, add back-ups and be aware of loads on anchors. Rescues take time and eat up gear very quickly. Prusiks and locking ’biners are critical when managing lowers and raises. Speed is critical. The victim didn’t breathe for three to four minutes before we got to her. The impact was at 11:00 a.m. and we had her lowered by 11:35 a.m. and in the helicopter by 12:30 a.m. (Source: internet message board: www.livethevision.com/wwwboard/messages/3636.html)