American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall into Crevasse—Unroped, Alberta, Jasper Naitonal Park, Mount Athabasca, North Glacier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

FALL INTO CREVASSE-UNROPED

Alberta, Jasper National Park, Mount Athabasca, North Glacier

On April 9, a party of three were ascending the North Glacier on Mount Athabasca on skis, on a route a little higher than where the “standard” route normally goes. Their intent was to do some skiing as they had done a week prior. At 1310, the party was paralleling a crevasse as they were nearing the top of a roll in the glacier, when K.F., who was in lead, dropped into the crevasse. The party was unroped, unharnessed, and unfortunately, K.F. had the rope. The two friends got as close as they safely could to the crevasse to try to establish contact, but no voice contact could be made. Knowing they could not do much without a rope, they quickly skied down the mountain and dialed 911 from the Columbia Icefields Centre pay phone. Meanwhile K.F. was able to move in the tight quarters just enough to dramatically improve his fight against succumbing to hypothermia. He was able to slide off his pack and get his wind stopper, toque, and balaclava on. He put his down coat next to his chest and with one hand (the other was numb), he managed to get a prusik around his chest so it was ready to clip by the rescuers. Jasper dispatch was notified and a helicopter was brought in. Rescue teams were assembled from Jasper and Lake Louise. Crevasses were fairly obvious from the air and the serac hazard was deemed to be reasonable. It took approximately one hour and 15 minutes for the first party to get on scene from the time of the report and two hours to complete the extrication. By that time, K.F. had spent four hours in the crevasse. By 1744, K.F. was packaged and flown out with a Jasper Public Safety Warden. By 1806 all personnel were off the glacier. At 1841, K.F. was flown with a paramedic to Banff Mineral Springs Hospital and released later that night with no injuries.

Analysis

The party had over estimated the quality of the snow cover on the glacier and choose to travel without a rope or harness on. The team climbed to a high point of a roll to get a better ski run down. Crevasses and localized scouring of snow are common near crests of rolls in glaciated terrain. The team did not see the depression of the snow indicating a crevasse until after K.F. had fallen in. The Rockies snowpack is often thinner and more variable than other mountain ranges to the west. It is rare when conditions exist for traveling unroped. (Source: A1 Horton, Jasper National Park Warden Service)

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