American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Alberta, Kananaksis Country, 2-Low 4-Zero

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 2006

FALL ON ICE

Alberta, Kananaskis Country, 2-Low 4-Zero

On December 3,1 took a leader fall. The fall was a result of a left-hand tool plant shearing off a substantial block of very brittle ice while I was placing the other tool. The left tool proceeded to hit me in the mouth with some velocity, breaking a front incisor in half and causing a puncture wound on my lower lip. More importantly, the force of this hit caused me to lose my footholds, which were pretty good, resulting in a free-fall of four to five meters. The crampon on my right foot caught, severely spraining my ankle. I fell on a section that was largely vertical to overhanging below me, so I did not hit the ice with much force. I was leading on two ropes above a three- screw belay that I had set up maybe 40 meters off the ground. The force of the fall pulled my wife off her feet and against the anchors. (I weigh well over 200 pounds fully laden). I was suspended head down, pulled myself up, and placed a screw to clip off. I managed to climb up a few feet to retrieve an intermediate screw, then with some difficulty due to thin ice, set up an Abalakov with a “leaver” screw backup. Due to the sprained ankle I did not feel confident climbing back up to retrieve the screw, so I pulled the rope through, set up a double rope rap through the Abalakov, and rapped down. My wife rapped the same rig.

I did not feel the need for an evacuation. I was not critically injured, and although it is a substantial walk in to this climb, it is a largely easy trail. Additionally, we each had a ski pole, so with my wife carrying a heavier pack (bless her heart) and me using both poles, I was able to manage, albeit slowly. My feet were already somewhat cold due to the low temperatures, and I tightened the boot ankle on the injured foot, so it wasn’t too painful.

I checked over and had the ankle X-rayed at the Canmore Hospital. The good news is that nothing was broken. The result was not being able to climb for several weeks due to damage to the ankle, and a broken tooth that could be fixed without a root canal. Very lucky, but a wake-up call.

Analysis

I was using Mammut Genesis 8.5 ropes. Probably the high degree of stretch on a single strand of skinny rope contributed to the lack of failure. There was little tension on the second strand. I had placed a stubby about three meters below the top screw, plus there was a screw about 1.5 meters above the belay. The belay was bomber—a stubby, an 18-cm, and a 22-cm R.C.L.

Lessons? Well, don’t climb when it is close to minus 20 C. The ice can become particularly brittle. Additionally, this was a cold snap after a period of very warm temps, which probably contributed to chossy (sic) ice. Although I was on a climb that was well within my leading abilities and I wasn’t having any particular difficulty, it was a bit hard to find good plants, and I was knocking off some big chunks. Under such conditions, additional care is obviously warranted. Plus, it just isn’t very pleasant.

Although we had plenty of good clothing, if I had been more seriously injured and a rescue had been necessary, the clothing we had may have been insufficient to hold off hypothermia. We should have been carrying an additional insulating layer.

Ski poles are gold in the event of an injury. Walking out on my own accord would otherwise have been very difficult. This was my first (and hopefully last) leader fall on water ice. This is my eighth season water ice climbing. Although I have done quite a bit of soloing on easy water ice, this experience has cured me of that. I would have surely died without a rope. I was quite impressed with the holding power of the screw and belay chain, even in less than perfect ice. It also demonstrated the power of a good belayer and keeping cool heads. (Source: Edited from a report submitted to the website called Live-the-vision.com, name unknown)

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