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Avalanche Season Already With Climbers Injured in Jasper Area

There was an avalanche on Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National park that took two climbers for a 75-metre ride. Luckily, the climbers escaped with only minor injuries. The following report appeared on the mountain conditions report by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides. The report is one of the most valuable free online resources for climbers and skiers. Anyone heading into the backcountry should check it at MountainConditions.com.

The Jasper area has seen upwards of 20cm of storm snow in the high alpine (3000m+) in the previous week, while winds have transported available snow into pockets up to 60cm deep. The Columbia Icefields area has received 40cm, or more, during the same period. The combination of the recent snow, afternoon temps hovering in the teens coupled with prolonged sun exposure has created prime avalanche conditions in the alpine, which the following event will depict.

Mount Edith Cavell Photo Matt Brooks
Mount Edith Cavell Photo Matt Brooks

A group of two were descending the west ridge on Mount Edith Cavell at 4 p.m. in the afternoon, when they veered off the ridge and began descending a bowl shaped feature they ascending in the morning. The snow was firm and provided good boot steps in the early hours of the day, but by the time of their descent the group found the snow had changed and was not supporting their weight, was heavy and snow ‘balling’ as they walked down. They also observed many small avalanches in the area.

The two were walking separate lines when they both heard the Whumph! The moist/wet slab fractured two meters above the first group member (the second member was off to the side and was not caught), 60cm deep (failing on the ground), 15m wide and ran ~1000m (details are uncertain, could have ran farther near valley bottom).

Southwest feature with a slope angle between 30 to 40 degrees and was uniform in shape. The group member who was caught ‘swam’ within the debris and eventually self arrested with the aid of an ice axe after travelling ~75m in the avalanche (distance is uncertain). They remained on the surface and sustain multiple cuts, bruises and a severely strain (possibly broken) left ankle. The second group member assisted their partner while traveling down the remainder of the slope to the trail at the valley bottom where they were picked up by Parks Canada Visitor Safety staff early the next morning after they were reported ‘overdue’ at 2:30 a.m.

The storm snow has been slow to melt off in the alpine, use additional caution when traveling in snowy areas when air temp is above zero, the slope has seen prolonged sun and signs of instability are apparent (sluffing, snow balling, etc).

Every year, climbers and skiers die in avalanches. Always refer to Avalanche.ca before heading out in Canada. Watch this video about avalanche awareness to refresh your snow travel knowledge.