Ice climbing Falls
On February 21, three climbers were nearing the top of Professor Falls (WI 4 920 feet) on the north side of Mount Rundle, Alberta, Canada. A 54-year-old man from nearby Canmore, whose name has not been released, was on lead.
“He had climbed through an easy section without putting any protection in . . . and then he fell off, ” Grant Statham, a visitor safety specialist with Parks Canada, told the . “He hit a ledge and continued to slide, so it wasn’t a clean fall—he bounced off a lot of stuff and slid through rocks.”
The man careened nearly 100 feet down Professor Falls before his belayer caught the fall. The belayer lowered him to a small ledge and another climbing party assisted them as they waited for helicopter rescue.
The climber sustained severe injuries in the fall, including a broken ankle, pelvis and back, and laceration to his arm, the reports. He was stabilized and pulled off the ice ledge by the Parks Canada visitor safety team and flown to an ambulance. He was admitted to the hospital in critical condition, but has since stabilized.
Professor Falls, an area classic for the grade, consists of multiple sections of steep ice broken by ledges and short snow slopes. The man who fell, a Canmore local, was probably climbing below his limit and on familiar terrain.
Nick Yardley, an ice climber from Vermont who had climbed the route with his daughter Emma only days before, told Rock and Ice that he believes that the Canmore man fell on the fourth pitch of the climb, based on a photo published in the .
“He must have kept sliding over the next steep pitch, ” Yardley says. “[There was] no snow on the ledges so it’s easy to see how a person could keep sliding.”
Yardley mentioned that the climb was fat and in great condition, however, it had also been unseasonably warm.
“The pitch he fell on was very wet, ” Yardley says. “On the right, running surface water and fresh slushy surface ice [made it] hard to place gear or to get bomber secure placements.” The left side was drier but mushroomed, he explained, “so … perhaps not straight forward.”
When the man fell, he hadn’t placed protection for a long distance, likely because the ice wouldn’t provide solid screw placements, or because the man was comfortable on the terrain. He was runout, and without snow on the ledges, there was little to slow his fall.
Ice protection can be bomber, but it is only as strong as the ice that it’s placed in (if it’s placed at all). Oftentimes, when the ice is bad—brittle, hollow, aerated, slushy, etc.—ice climbers don’t bother to waste energy placing screws that will most likely not hold a fall. Instead, they find it safer to continue climbing to better ice and more reliable protection.