Two climbers injured after triggering avalanche in Columbia Icefield

Two climbers were taken to hospital with serious injuries after triggering an avalanche in Jasper National Park's Columbia Icefield.

Climbers were 200 metres from the summit when they felt a 'whumph' underfoot

Two climbers were airlifted to hospital after triggering an avalanche along the Silverhorn Route on Mount Athabasca. (Parks Canada)

Two climbers were taken to hospital with serious injuries Wednesday after triggering an avalanche  in Jasper National Park

The man and woman were roped together while scaling a north aspect of the Silverhorn Route on Mount Athabasca in the Columbia Icefield.

The pair were at elevation of 3,200 metres when they triggered the slide around 10:30 a.m.

"The two climbers had been swept from near the summit," said Rupert Wedgwood, manager of visitor safety for Jasper National Park. "They had gone for a very long ride." 

The climbers were 200 metres from the summit, on "Styrofoam-like" snow, when they felt a "whumph underfoot," parks officials said.

'They triggered the avalanche'

"She was leading when the avalanche occurred," Wedgwood said. "It was their actions, they believe, that caused the avalanche to occur. Their extra weight on the snow triggered a weakness." 

The climbers were swept away and travelled 600 metres. When they came to a stop, the woman was buried to her neck, with one arm free, and the man was sitting on top of the snow.

"They had all the right gear," Wedgwood said. "They had avalanche beacons, shovels and probes, so they were able to extricate themselves.

"But that's the best-case scenario. That's why we encourage people to carry that self-rescue gear." 

Wedgwood said Jasper's emergency dispatch centre got a radio call from mountain guides who had seen the slide and were concerned that climbers were trapped under the snow. 

Assuming the worst, Wedgwood began assembling rescue teams from Jasper and Banff, and arranging to have an avalanche dog dispatched to the scene. 

"Initially, we didn't have a lot of information, other than there was a very large avalanche, in the words of the mountain guide," Wedgwood said. "We knew it could be serious and there were at least two people involved." 

Within 20 minutes of the call, the dispatch centre got word from a guide on the mountain that the climbers were OK.

"When the guided group that responding made contact with them, the climbers said they didn't need any help at all." 

The climbers initially thought they had escaped the ordeal uninjured, but within the hour were asking to be rescued. One had a leg injury, the other had torso injuries.

They could walk but didn't think they could climb down safely. 

"It's not until the adrenaline levels wear off that you start to become aware of more minor injuries, and that's what happened," Wedgwood said. 

The climbers were taken by helicopter to Jasper hospital with serious, but not life-threatening, injuries.

They were very lucky to get away as uninjured as they were.- Rupert Wedgwood. 

The man and woman were experienced climbers from Jasper who had good knowledge of the area and experience in crevasse rescue, Wedgwood said. 

The avalanche is considered a size 2.5. Wedgwood said recently fallen snow has increased the avalanche risk in high elevation areas of the Rockies.

"If you're out there for long enough ... you'll likely have a close call at some point in time. And they were very lucky to get away as uninjured as they were."

"I'm sure they're reflecting on it today. But the good news is that they're home, they're safe, and they're healing."