Detailed Accident Report

Back to accidents page

Date: 2005-07-09
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Mount Athabasca in Jasper National
State: AB
Country: CANADA
Summary: 2 climbers caught, one seriously injured

From: Rocky Mountain Outlook

Rare summer avalanche prompts warning


An unusual summer avalanche warning has been issued for alpine climbing routes after two climbers triggered a large slide on Mount Athabasca in Jasper National Park Saturday (July 9).

A danger rating of "considerable" for steep, snow-covered alpine slopes after two Calgary climbers survived an avalanche while descending the North Glacier route of the 3,491-metre peak.

A 21-year-old man suffered serious back and ankle injuries and was slung by helicopter off the mountain.He was taken to Banff's Mineral Springs Hospital and then on to Foothills Hospital.

The other man, believed to be in his early 20s, escaped relatively unscathed.

Warden Brad White, a public safety specialist, said the avalanche, which came down about 1:30 p.m., was about 300 metres wide at its crown and up to 80 cm thick in some places.

"The slide took them over some big seracs underneath them, and then they got carried down a few hundred metres onto the lower glacier," said White.

A party walking on the glacier rushed to the aid of the young climbers, while a mountain guide raised the alarm, bringing in wardens from Banff and Jasper as well as an avalanche rescue dog.

This incident and other recent slides prompted park wardens to warn climbers to exercise extra caution when evaluating steep snow-covered slopes and glaciated terrain.

White told the Outlook that a cool and wet spring season has contributed to increased avalanche danger on the alpine climbing routes in the Rockies.

He later released the same information in a bulletin that was distributed to the media, along with members of the climbing community. He said large snowfall, along with heavy rains at times in June, created a rain-soaked snowpack covered by a thin crust at the higher elevations.

Recent cooler weather with dry snow and strong wind loading has in turn formed a winter-type slab on top of the crust on some slopes,White said.

He said that throughout late June and early July there have been numerous avalanches, triggered by climbers, of up to size 2.5 on several alpine routes.

In addition,White said there has been several large natural avalanches up to size 3.5 over the last week due to isothermal wet snow avalanching, cornice failures and serac falls.

"Conditions are unusual for this time of year and will not improve until we have an extended period of strong melting and overnight freezes," he said.

Avalanche training, experience and avalanche rescue equipment are recommended for climbing on routes with potential avalanche danger.

White said an additional hazard to watch for is thinly bridged crevasses, which may be difficult to observe due to recent storm snow and wind drifting.