British Columbia

Stephanie Grothe, Elena Cernicka, Neil Mackenzie identified as Joffre Peak climbing victims

The BC Coroners Service has identified the three climbers who died after a 600 metres fall near Joffre Peak north of Pemberton, B.C. on Sunday.
Neil Mackenzie and Stephanie Grothe died Jan. 11 after falling on a climb of Joffre Peak, north of Pemberton, B.C. (Google Plus)

The BC Coroners Service has identified the man and two women who died after a fall while climbing near Joffre Peak, north of Pemberton, B.C., on Sunday.

  • Elena Cernicka, 35, of North Vancouver.
  • Neil Charles Mackenzie, 31, of Vancouver.
  • Stephanie Grothe, 30, of Vancouver.

Grothe was a PhD student in physics and astronomy at the University of British Columbia and originally from Germany. 

Mackenzie was a post-doctoral fellow at UBC in the Centre for Blood Research and originally from Scotland.

Cernicka was a patient safety co-ordinator with Providence Health Care.

Elena Cernicka also died in the fall while roped together with Mackenzie and Grothe. (Cernice)

The three were part of a group who travelled to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park on Jan. 10 and spent that night in a backcountry hut in the park, said a statement by the BC Coroners Service.

On Jan. 11, the three appear to have been walking up a steep gully, known as the central couloir, wearing crampons, according to RCMP.

They were roped together, near the top of the couloir, when they fell about 600 metres to their deaths, said police.

'She had the greatest hello you'd ever hear'

Grothe had nearly finished her PhD thesis in physics, said UBC research associate James Day, who had worked with her. Last Friday, she told him she was scheduling a date for her doctoral defence.

Day described her as thoughtful and "extremely friendly."

UBC student Stephanie Grothe had nearly completed her PhD in physics and was an experienced hiker and climber. (UBC)

"She had the greatest 'hello' you'd ever hear in the mornings," said Day.

She was a vegetarian who loved the outdoors and rode her bike everywhere, even if it meant showing up soaking wet, he said.

"Whenever we asked her what she was up to on the weekends, she was heading to the mountains," said Day.

She was experienced enough that she taught hiking and climbing to members of UBC's Varsity Outdoors Club, said Day.

'Very serious route'

The central couloir of Joffre Peak is well-known among mountaineers and extremely steep, said a backcountry skier who has climbed it.

"It's a very serious route ... steep enough that if you do start to fall, it is possible that you will not be able to self-arrest," said Paul Cordy of Squamish, B.C.

Cordy said it's a route that should only be attempted by experienced climbers who know how to build anchors in the snow to stop a fall.

But even if they did everything right, he said, safety isn't guaranteed on such steep terrain.

"It could just happen, in the event of a fall, if the anchors aren't as secure [in the snow] as you want them to be."

RCMP and the Coroners Service are continuing to investigate the deaths.

With files from Dan Burritt and Chris Corday