Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 1999-04-30
Submitted By: Dale Atkins; WWAN
Place: University Range in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Ultima Thule Peak
State: AK
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 3 climbers caught, 1 buried, and killed


Climber dies in avalanche

Famed Canadian mountaineer swept off Wrangell cliff


Daily News outdoors editor

All the years of living dangerously caught up with 41-year-old Canadian

mountaineer Jim Haberl on a moderate slope in the University Range

southeast of Glennallen on Thursday.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Superintendent Jon Jarvis

said Haberl died when a relatively slow-moving slab avalanche swept him

off a 20- to-30-degree slope and over a 1,000- to 1,500-foot drop.

The death of Haberl, one of the first Canadians to reach the 28,250-foot

summit of K2 in the Himalayas, brought to 12 the number of people killed

by avalanches in Alaska this year.

"We're about three times the normal," said local avalanche expert Doug

Fesler, who also noted the avalanche season is far from over.

Avalanches also have killed eight snowmobilers, two snowboarders and a

heavy-equipment operator this year. Haberl is the first climber to die, but

the climbing season is just beginning in much of the state.

Fesler placed part of the reason for the increase in fatalities on a boom in

adventure sport.

Haberl, the author of two climbing books, was an experienced mountaineer.

The American Library Association's "Booklist" had this to say about one of

his books, "Risking Adventure: Mountain Journeys Around the World" -

"The book is most interesting when Haberl recounts firsthand his moments

of emotional crisis, as when his best friend fell to his death after reaching

the summit of K2, or when members of his climbing party in the Andes

were downed by an avalanche of ice boulders the size of refrigerators."

"I knew this guy," Fesler said. "He was a young guy with no ego, a good

writer and a very good photographer."

Jarvis said Haberl had flown into the University Range with Canadian

companions Keith Reid, 39, and Grame Alan Taylor, 36, on Sunday. They

planned to climb an officially unnamed 10,000-foot peak known locally as

Ultima Thule.

The name had been hung on the summit by guide and pilot Paul Klaus from

the nearby Ultima Thule lodge. Klaus flew the climbers to a landing strip

near 6,000 feet, according to the National Park Service.

Jarvis said the climbers were approaching Ultima Thule when the accident


"They were breaking trail," he said. "They'd left their packs and were

returning to get them."

According to Park Service rangers and Alaska State Troopers, who

interviewed Reid and Taylor at the Gulkana airport, the men were traveling

on skis in calm weather on a 5-degree morning. They were crossing a 20-

to 30-degree slope - what might be considered intermediate terrain at a ski

area - about 7 a.m. when a 100-foot-wide, 3-foot-deep slab of snow let go.

Haberl, according to the Park Service, was about 30 feet in front of Reid

and Taylor. Reid and Taylor, according to troopers, were caught in the

"broad, but slow-moving slab," but were able to swim free.

Haberl, however, was swept over a cliff.

"It took him right over the edge," Jarvis said. "He was killed by the impact.

It took (Reid and Taylor) several hours to climb down to the site."

Rangers said the two surviving climbers found gloves, a hat and bloody

snow. They then began probing for Haberl. It did not take them long to find

him and dig him out from under 3 feet of avalanche debris, but he was

already dead.

His head injuries from the fall were severe, the Park Service said.

Reid and Taylor summoned help by switching on an emergency location

transmitter. The signal was picked up by the Rescue Coordination Center

on Fort Richardson, which called Wrangell-St. Elias park ranger Tim

Sawkoski. He began searching for missing pilots in the Glennallen area.

Sawkoski soon discovered Klaus had given the Canadian climbers an ELT.

Klaus subsequently returned to the site, found the survivors and flew them

out on Thursday. Haberl's body was retrieved Friday by his climbing

companions and Klaus.