Alex Ratson was on a trip from the West Coast to the Rockies for some ice climbing. He and his partners were hoping to have a go at Polar Circus, the 700-metre WI5 classic on the Icefields Parkway north of Banff.
On Jan. 28, they parked their car and watched as other climbers were climbing the final few hundred metres. As one climber led the second last pitch, a giant avalanche ripped over the top of the route and down onto the climbers. Ratson and his partners snapped a few photos and watched not knowing if the climbers would survive. Then another avalanche came down.
After a few minutes, they witnessed some movement and the climbers began to descend. The photo above was captured by Ratson of the avalanche engulfing over 100 metres of ice with the lead climber still visible to the right. Ratson has reached out online to get the story of the climbers on route.
“We were at the base of the amazing Polar Circus today after seeing a car parked there,” wrote Ratson on Facebook. “Knowing it was climbers all three of us started thinking about how awesome it would be to get on it and seconds later, not even fully out of the car one of the largest avalanches erupted making us jump so much we jumped back in the van as it slide to valley bottom and blitzed it out of the way.
“Getting back out of the van we could feel the blast of the slide and our guts start turning as we started to realize there was a good chance we just witnessed two fellow climbers take the last swings of there tools ever. We alerted Park Safety and continued to watch the route to eventually see movement and then another, much smaller but still noteworthy slide come down. After which the climbers reappeared and booked it down.” Below is a photo of the cloud of snow after the avalanche by Ratson.
When the avalanche rating is high, climbers should stay away from Polar Circus. A number of things could have triggered this avalanche, but changes are that it was daytime warming. A number of climbers have died on the route from avalanches, including climbing legend John Lauchlan in the early 1980s.
If you know anything about the climbers on the route, contact us at email@example.com. You can check avalanche conditions here and ice climbing conditions in the Rockies here. More photos from Ratson here.