American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Fall on Rock — Foothold Broke Off, Off Route, Placed No Protection, Alberta, Canadian Rockies, Phantom Tower

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2010


Alberta, Canadian Rockies, Phantom Tower

On April 11, a party of three were going to attempt the South Face of the Phantom Tower, a 5.8 gear route in the Ghost River. The leader (20) started up what he thought was the beginning pitch, but he was about 20m too far to the right. He ascended about ten meters from the ground without protection. A foothold broke off, and that resulted in a ground fall and a long tumble through the scree. His partners secured him with the rope and then activated the “911” button on their SPOT beacon. The Banff detachment of the Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RCMP) were eventually contacted by the SPOT dispatch, and they phoned Banff Public Safety dispatch to inform them that there was a PLB 911 signal coming from the east side of BNP. The RCMP had to place a call back to the International Emergency Response Coordination Centre (IERCC), in Houston, Texas, as they had not provided latitude and longitude with the initial call. RCMP called back with the coordinate, and the location was determined to be on the BNP east boundary, near Phantom Crag.

Meanwhile, a caller from the party eventually made it through to Banff dispatch on a cellphone, and confirmed that a 20-year-old male had fallen ten meters to the ground and had sustained serious injuries. Parks rescuers and EMS flew to the scene and heli-slung into the patient, who was then stabilized, packaged and slung down to a heli staging area. STARS air ambulance was notified and they flew directly to the scene. The patient was then transferred directly to Foothills Hospital in Calgary, where he was diagnosed with fractured vertebrae.


SPOT beacons are becoming very popular. Unfortunately the details of the incident and sometimes the actual latitude and longitude of the incident are not properly communicated. This makes mounting an appropriate rescue response more difficult. Often the text message on the beacon has not been updated for the trip and is not appropriate. Placing no protection at the beginning of the climb guarantees that any fall will result in hitting the group and significantly increasing the potential for a serious injury. (Source: Brad White, Banff National Park Mountain Safety Specialist)

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