American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Accidents, 1972 Canada

  • In Memoriam
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1973

British Columbia, Canadian Rockies, Clemenceau Ice Field. On 2 August Roly Morrison (31), Bill Sharp (35), and Howie Ridge (27) set off from the base camp of the A.C.C. Climbing Camp to establish a High Camp in the Duplicate — Shackleton cwm for three days.

Approximately one third of the way up the Duplicate ice-fall and on a previously established and used route, the party was hit suddenly, and without warning, by a falling serac. The serac fell from above and landed directly upon Bill Sharp, who was in the middle of the rope. Morrison, the leader, was pulled into the path of the falling ice, by the drag on the rope, flung over the ledge directly below the party. Howie was being pulled into the falling debris, but was fortunately stopped, when a large block of ice fell onto the rope, between him and the slide of ice. Howie’s chest was jammed very tightly against the ice-block and he was slowly being suffocated by the pull of the rope from under the block. He was able to take a knife from his pocket, with one free hand, open the blade by using one hand and his teeth, and to cut through his chest harness.

Bill was not in sight from Howie’s stance, but Roly was in view on the lower ledge. Upon descending to Roly, Howie found him to be without life. On further looking, Bill was discovered hanging by the rope, part way down the ledge, which Howie had just descended to reach Roly. He too was obviously without life and very badly crushed. On the other hand Roly, virtually unmarked, seemed to have died from internal injuries.

As nothing could be done for the victims, Howie made the return trip to the base Camp and alerted the few people not climbing.

The bodies were recovered and lowered to the foot of the glacier, where they were covered and left. Dr. Jeff Mellor made the official pronouncement of death at the site of the accident before the recovery took place. Two members of Helmut Microy’s Party were kind enough to assist in the recovery operation.

Much credit must be given to Howie and his presence of mind under the circumstances, and to all and sundry who participated in the unhappy task of recovering the bodies.

Bob Jordan had previously made available his ham radio set-up to the Camp. It was set up and functioning every night on a previously arranged schedule. Bob made contact with a radio ham in Calgary later that day and requested a helicopter for the bodies. The message was relayed to the R.C.M.P. in Golden. That evening at 2130 an Okanagan Helicopter with R.C.M.P. Constable Krenz flew into the Camp. A brief inquiry took place, and the bodies were flown out to Mica Creek with the last light.

On August 4th a further flight was made into the area. Corporal Dick Latta, a Club member, made a further investigation and retrieved the victims’ effects. He spent about two hours at Base Camp. The majority of the information came from Howie Ridge, Bob Jordan, Jeff Mellor, Art Schwartz and Robin Lidstone. The Camp Manager and most of the remaining Camp participants were all away at various High Camps, and not aware of the accident until their return. The investigation facts were gathered for a Coroner’s inquiry to take place in Revelstoke.

Source: R. Matthews

Analysis: The accident happened on a previously travelled and established route. It had been travelled at the earliest hours, and in the late afternoon, by returning parties. The Leader Roly Morrison had previously been over the route. On the day of the accident two parties had preceded the unfortunate group. Indeed, they descended to the scene of the accident to give aid in the recovery. The route was promptly closed by mutual agreement of all climbers, and not used again. The big factor in our favour, which saved the Camp from a major demoralizing incident, was the possession of the radio, which expedited the removal of the bodies.

The accident seems to have been one of the rare no-fault no-blame type which are few and far between these days. In short, it was a bad-luck incident. Bill and Roly were taken from us as swiftly and efficiently as Jake Breitenbach was taken from the Americans in the Khumbu Icefall on Everest, and in the same manner of passing.

This ANAM article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.