YOUNG SCRAMBLER RECALLS HARROWING ACCIDENT ON PYRAMID MOUNTAIN
Alisha Wiersma feels lucky to be alive.
While descending Pyramid Mountain after reaching its summit, the 22-year-old took a frightening fall and was subsequently caught in a rockslide.
“I thought I was going to die up there,” she said.
On August 24, Wiersma planned to scale the 2,766 metre mountain. She was almost at the end of her second summer in Jasper. Before she went back to school, however, she wanted to do something adventurous, all by herself.
“It was something on my bucket list, a solo summit,” she said.
As such, Wiersma rented a mountain bike and pedalled (and pushed) her way up the 12 km fire road. When she reached the end of the road and ambled up to the summit ridge, Wiersma realized the top of the mountain was still a long way off.
“I thought ‘that looks scary,’” she recalled. “I was hoping the steep part wasn’t the summit.”
The steep part, in fact, led to the summit. To allay her fears of going at it alone, Wiersma asked two fellow hikers if she could join them for the rigorous scramble to the top. The two hikers were Jasperites John and Simon Wilmshurst, who were on their own final adventure of the summer—Simon was due to head back to school in Victoria the following day.
“I had noticed they were pretty good hikers,” Wiersma said. “I asked ‘do you mind if we reach the summit together?’”
The Wilmshursts obliged Wiersma’s request; they would be happy to hike together. An hour or so later, after reaching the summit and posing for obligatory victory photos, Wiersma was conscious of the time; she had to work in less than four hours. Figuring she’d let the father and son duo enjoy some time together soaking in the views, she elected to start down without them. However, instead of retreating the same way they came up, Wiersma started down slightly off course.
“I thought, ‘I don’t think this is the exact same way, but it looks less steep,’” she said.
However, upon beginning her descent, Wiersma lost her footing. As she fell to the ground, she slid on top of the rocks, which had suddenly come to life beneath her.
“A rockslide took me down,” she said. “I was scared out of my mind, crying.”
She eventually came to a stop. But as she took stock of her situation, Wiersma realized she had to get back up to the summit ridge. However, as she tried to stand, more rocks slid beneath her. Soon she was falling again, this time tumbling and rolling off of larger rocks. When she finally stopped, some 30 m from where she initially fell, she was face down in the debris and her leg was stuck.
“I was scared to move, scared to start another rock slide,” she said.
By this time, the Wilmshursts had been alerted to the scene by Wiersma’s calls for help. When they saw their new hiking friend in distress, Simon went back up to the summit to call for a rescue. John stayed close enough to Wiersma to communicate with her, but far enough away so as not to further disturb the slope.
“John was amazing,” Wiersma said. “He was asking me about my family and reassuring me that the rescuers were the best in the field.”
Yet Wiersma was unable to stay calm for long. She was agitated about the loose rocks. When Wilmshurst told her a helicopter was on its way, she worried the rescuers would create more rockfall.
“I was so scared,” she said. “Every time a rock moved it caused a panic attack.”
Eventually, Parks Canada rescuers did show up. With Simon waving from the ridge and indicating Wiersma’s position, technicians swooped overhead to assess the scene. Soon they were creating a staging area, then slinging in a rescuer from beneath the helicopter. After fitting Wiersma with a rescue harness and airlifting her to the staging area where they stabilized her, technicians put Wiersma into the helicopter and flew her to an awaiting ambulance.
“She was cold and shaking like a leaf,” said public safety specialist Rupert Wedgwood. “And rightly so, she had a very close call.”
Wedgwood said wet weather all summer has created slope instability in many parts of the Rockies.
“That terrain is constantly active with rockfall,” he said. “You definitely don’t want to be there.”
After the incident, Wiersma said she was grateful to the Wilmshursts for their compassion and to the rescue technicians for their expertise.
“I don’t know how to thank someone for doing something like that,” she said. “Words can’t thank someone enough.”
Although Wiersma said she’d want to gain more experience before she attempts another solo scramble, the following week she was on Whistlers’ Mountain—albeit with her sister. The trip was in part to check off one more adventure off her list, but also to prove to herself that she could still enjoy the alpine without fear of something going terribly wrong.
“I’d recommend hiking Pyramid Mountain, but unless you’re very prepared, don’t do it by yourself,” she said.