American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall into Crevasse, Placed Inadequate Protection, Time of Day, British Columbia, Mount Robson Provincial Park, Mount Robson

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

FALL INTO CREVASSE, PLACED INADEQUATE PROTECTION, TIME OF DAY

British Columbia, Mount Robson Provincial Park, Mount Robson

On August 31, Richard Denker (48) and Bob Breivogel (52) were making their way up the Robson Glacier to the Dome. At 1645 while weaving through the “Mousetrap,” a crevasse field at approximately 2,900 meters, Breivogel fell through a snow bridge over a crevasse. Blocks of snow which had bridged the crevasse fell onto the climber while he hung upside down from the rope, six meters below the lip. The falling debris caused rib and shoulder injuries. A second group of two climbers in the area assisted Denker in getting his partner out of the crevasse and back down the glacier to 2,700 meters where they spent the night.

The assisting climbers left for help at 1900 reaching the Berg Lake Ranger Station at 0130 on September 1. A Parks Canada rescue team was contacted and the two climbers were evacuated using a helicopter and sling rescue system. Upon arrival at the hospital, it was determined that Breivogel had broken ribs and was suffering from a pneumothorax. (Source: Parks Canada Warden Service, Jim Mamalis)

Analysis

A couple of things come to mind. One, we were still crossing the ice-fall late in the day and late in the season. An earlier start or a higher camp may have helped. Second, we were using a doubled 70-meter (9mm) rope and were tied to the very ends, so a “tighter” belay and/or picket protection placed where the route made bends may have helped in reducing the length of the fall. However, the latter may not have helped in preventing the injuries, because they were the result of snow and ice blocks falling on Bob, not from the fall itself or the length of the fall. Also, when Bob righted himself in the crevasse, he was only about 12 to 18 feet below the lip. The rope stretch over the 35 meters of rope between us would be enough to cause the fall to be this distance.

In the dangerous area of the icefall, it would have been better either to be closer together or to belay the leader at bridges on a relatively short lead rope. Also, icefall crevasses—actually gaps in the icefall rubble—are unlike crevasses in snow-covered glaciers. Icefall crevasse bridges are made of smaller ice rubble which can seem sold when probing, but can break unexpectedly. The ice chunks are obviously more dangerous than soft snow when they fall on the victim.

We were probably over confident due to our extensive glacier experience on the volcanoes in the Northwest. These are usually climbed early to mid-season. We were lucky to have another party nearby to aid in the rescue, to have favorable weather and a good emergency camp location, and to experience an efficient rescue by the Canadian authorities. (Source: Paraphrased from a report submitted by Richard Denkler)

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