American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Party Separated, Weather, British Columbia, Yoho National Park, Lake O'Hara, Mount Biddle

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

STRANDED, PARTY SEPARATED, WEATHER

British Columbia, Yoho National Park, Lake O'Hara, Mount Biddle

On August 8, a party of six climbers headed to the West Ridge of Mount Biddle, a 5.4 alpine rock route on the Lake O’Hara area of Yoho National Park. Two of the party turned around low on the route when they noticed an approaching storm. The other four continued. There are a series of small rock steps on the route interspersed between loose exposed scrambling. Above the technical pitches, G.D. decided to traverse across the Southwest face and disappeared into storm clouds. The rest of his party assumed he had fallen to his death, but carried on up in spite of the ongoing storm. The three reached the summit around 1530. On descent, two of them were able to down-climb the steep sections in the rain, but one of them could not. The only rope in the party was carried by the climber who had earlier disappeared. So the climber waited on the ridge at around 10,000 feet while the other two went for help. The two reported the incident around 0200. Park wardens responded at first light and spotted the climber. The rescue crew attempted to evacuate him by heli-sling, but had to abort due to clouds. Clearing weather a short time later allowed the heli-sling rescue operation to continue.

Searching for the assumed-dead second climber began on the normal climbing route and fall-lines associated with it. The climber was eventually located 300 feet below the summit on ledges on the opposite side on the east face of Biddle. He had traversed on ledges looking for an overhang to sit out the storm under. One rescuer slung into the climber and he was evacuated to the Elizabeth Parker Hut and his elated friends.

Analysis

The forecast for the day was for a severe storm with lightning. Darkening skies by late morning confirmed the forecast and a heavy rain and lightening storm followed. The decision to carry on when the storm became obvious was questionable. The decision above the technical sections to carry on during the storm after one of the climbers was presumed dead is difficult to comprehend. This is particularly puzzling since none of the three had a rope at that point and they likely knew that getting down the steep sections would get increasingly difficult with the rain. (Source: Percy Woods, Yoho National Park Warden Service)

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