An Edmonton man is dead after taking a fatal fall while scrambling despite heroic efforts by his son to come to his assistance.
The two men were climbing Mount Utopia, in the Miette Range, near Jasper National Park’s east boundary. Experienced scramblers, they were negotiating the 2,602 m mountain’s summit ridge when the 56-year-old slipped and fell, according to Parks Canada officials.
“Scrambling is inherently hazardous,” said rescue leader Max Darrah. “It can be dangerous.”
Jasper National Park rescue technicians received a call from dispatchers alerting them to the incident around 3 p.m. on July 8. The call was unusual in that it contained a high level of detail. The reporting party—the 20-year-old son—had a two-way satellite messenger device. He relayed through the system’s dispatching network in Houston, Texas, that the men had suffered an accident and that he was in a perilous spot above a cliff ledge, holding his father’s body.
“The message came in that he wasn’t able to hold on for much longer,” Darrah said.
Coming directly off another call near Jasper’s Pyramid Lake Road, where a horseback rider was injured, rescue officials procured a helicopter which had been stationed at the Jasper warden compound for use with Parks Canada’s fire management program. Fire specialist Dave Smith said he had communicated with rescue leaders that morning about sharing resources should a rescue call come in.
“We work closely with our colleagues in visitor safety,” Smith said. “The helicopter was on the tarmac waiting to action.”
Three rescue technicians flew to the site where the reporting party’s GPS coordinates indicated; Darrah said the team spotted the party in a precarious position.
“It was a mean piece of terrain,” he said. “You wouldn’t put yourself there in a recreational context.”
The fallen climber had dropped approximately 300 m down a rocky, steep pitch. The 20-year-old son had bravely scrambled down to where his father lay but the slope was such that he had to hold him in place with his mountaineer’s axe. While struggling to do so, h e was able to communicate to rescuers his position and the urgency of the situation. He also messaged that his father was deceased.
“Without a doubt, in my career, this was one of the most valiant efforts I’ve seen of someone contributing to their own rescue,” Darrah said.
After fixing a long line under the helicopter, two technicians slung into the scene of the accident. Team member Jurgen Deagle clipped the son into the sling and the pair were flown by rescue pilot Dale Brady to a nearby staging area. Darrah, with help from technician Jeff Andrew, secured the gentleman's body.
Darrah said the pair were seasoned mountain athletes who had a thorough understanding of the terrain they were engaging.
“They were fit, they were prepared ... it was just an unfortunate incident with a very tragic outcome.”
Darrah emphasized that resources are available to members of the public wanting to explore Jasper National Park’s many mountains.
“If people are unsure about routes they can always contact visitor safety personnel to help with trip-planning efforts,” he said.