Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 1999-12-17
Submitted By: Frank W. Baumann
Place: Cascade Waterall in Banff
State: AB
Country: CANADA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 5 climbers caught, 4 injured, 1 killed




-- Sun Media

BANFF -- A steep fall

and car-sized chunks of

ice caused the deaths of

two mountain climbers

attempting to climb

Cascade Waterall in


"It was horrific,"

climber James McVicar

told The Sun less than

two hours after

surviving the ordeal.

Different levels

RCMP said three parties of two climbers and

a fourth party of three were all at different

levels of the popular 100 m frozen waterfall

about 1:15 p.m yesterday.

"Myself and my wife had finished the last

pitch of the main face and we were rappelling

down," McVicar said.

"One of the teams of two was up in the upper

bowl and there was a team of three that were

starting to come down as well, and two guys

were coming up from below."

That's when a man in the party of three

inexplicably unhooked from the rope - which

connected him to his two pals - and slipped.

"He fell all the way down, almost to the

bottom of the climb, McVicar said.

Banff RCMP and EMS who attended the

scene estimated the man dropped as far as 20

metres before slamming to the hard, icy

surface below.

After recovering from the shock of seeing the

man - who was later pronounced dead at the

scene - plummet to the ground, the other

climbers leapt into action.

"We all started to rappel and make our way

down the climb to help," McVicar said.

It was at that moment the unthinkable

occurred, he said.

"At about that time a huge avalanche hit."

'No chance'

Cops say tons of rocks and snow shot down

the mountain, hitting a second climber about 15

minutes after the man fell.

"There were Volkswagen and bus-sized

chunks of ice falling," said an emergency

response worker, who asked not to be

identified. "One of those chunks hit (the second

man) in the head - he had no chance.

"He was wearing a helmet, but it really didn't

make any difference at all - he died from

devastating head injuries."

McVicar said others

were also struck by

falling debris, but not

seriously injured.

Four people were

treated for minor

injuries and released

from hospital in Banff,

120 km west of Calgary.

RCMP have not released the names of the two

dead men, pending notification of next-of-kin.

While McVicar said he knew an avalanche on

an ice climb is always a possibility, he

weighed the risks and decided to go for it.

"It wasn't really warm out and the sun wasn't

out, so we made the assessment that the

avalanche danger wasn't high."

But yesterday's tragedy is the result of an

always-present danger, said a Banff park


"It was just a naturally-occurring avalanche

and they do happen," said Marc Ledwidge.

"One of the big risks with waterfall ice

climbing is dealing with the avalanche hazard

from above."

There are four key points with regard to this accident that need


1. waterfall climbers are in one of the worst possible terrain traps

when it comes to avalanches.

2. climbing solo unroped means you can get bounced off by even the

smallest slide.

3. it seems that at least 3 of the 4 avalanche victims (so far) this season died

primarily due to trauma and not suffocation.

4. people must be encouraged to read the avalanche forecasts. The one

for Banff yesterday (Dec 17th) fully predicted that avalanche danger was High (see the Banff National Park at ).