Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2001-03-25
Submitted By: Frank W. Baumann
Place: Columbia Icefields
State: AB
Country: CANADA
Summary: 1 ice climber dies in fall after surviving an avalanche

***At this point it appears the fatality was not caused by the avalanche.

Here is some more information from the Banff Crag and Canyon Newspaper ( ) on the accident on March 26 in the Columbia Icefields.

This report suggests that the accident was more due to a fall, rather than the avalanche.

Falls kills Banff climber in Jasper

By Cathy Ellis

Staff writer

After surviving an avalanche, an experienced Banff climber plummeted about 450 metres to his death while soloing a classic ice route in Jasper National Park Sunday afternoon (March 26).

Clinton Mark Giesbrecht, 30, died when his anchor failed on the 925-metre Slipstream WI4+ route on Mount Snow Dome at the Columbia Icefields, one of the world?s classic alpine ice routes.

Ironically, he had survived an avalanche that had swept over the route shortly before he fell to his death, about 2:30 p.m.

Fearing he was out of his league, Giesbrecht?s climbing buddy Marc Gendron decided the night before not to do the climb, and instead bivouacked in a snow cave. He knew Giesbrecht was an accomplished climber, having soled Mount Robson and the north face of Mount Temple.

?I did not feel comfortable doing it myself, I didn?t feel capable,?? said a shaken Gendron.

?If I had gone with him, we might have gone up faster and come down faster, but we probably would have been caught in the avalanche.??

Gendron, 31, said he met Giesbrecht at Banff?s Royal Canadian Legion about two weeks ago, and soon after began planning a climbing expedition together.

?I didn?t know him that well, it?s not that much of a personal loss, it?s more of a tragedy because there was death,?? said Gendron.

Gendron saw Giesbrecht reach the top of the route through his binoculars, but soon after lost sight of him when the clouds stormed in.

?He was climbing quite smoothly and quickly, and about the time when he reached the summit the wind on top of Snow Dome was quite strong, so he opted not to top out and walk off to the exit gully, which is a normal decent, he opted to rappel the route,?? he said

?About half an hour after the clouds rolled in an avalanche happened right on the route. I don?t know if he triggered it or not, or if it came from above, but when the avalanche happened I feared the worst.??

At that point, Gendron hiked for one-and-a-half-hours to the Icefields Parkway to raise the alarm.

Giesbrecht, however, survived the slide, and was again spotted about half way down the route when the rescue wardens arrived.

?The clouds had lifted by then and we actually saw him on the route, he was still rappelling, the avalanche did not take him out,?? said Gendron.

A helicopter had already been called in from Golden, B.C., so wardens decided to fly by to see if Giesbrecht was OK.

?He might have had a broken arm, he might have had a broken ankle, we didn?t know, so we wanted to fly by to make sure he was OK,?? said Rupert Wedgwood, an alpine specialist for Jasper National Park.

?When we flew by, we located his body at the bottom of the climb.??

Wardens recovered his body in a small crevasse at the bottom of the climb.

Wedgwood said there is no way of knowing how or why the rappel anchor failed.

?We can only speculate what went wrong, but all we can say for certain is there was an anchor failure on the rappel,?? he said.

Wardens used the helicopter sling rescue technique to bring the body to a awaiting ambulance at the Icefields Parkway parking lot. The recovery was finished by 6:30 p.m. Sunday.