Two rock climbers plunged 100 metres down a cliff face to their deaths just east of Canmore, Alta. Sunday.
The man and woman, both in their early 20s, were in the popular climbing area of Heart Creek when a witness saw them fall around 1 p.m. local time, says Emergency Medical Services spokesman Stuart Brideaux. A ground crew of emergency responders and conservation officers found them at the bottom of a ravine, in a dry creek bed a couple of kilometres off the park’s trailhead.
Both had suffered multiple traumatic injuries and were pronounced dead on the scene.
It was clear from the location where they were found that the two didn’t make a clear fall to ground.
“A big majority of that [fall] was, unfortunately, tumbling down terrain until they essentially reached the dry creek bed,” Mr. Brideaux said.
It isn’t clear what precipitated the fall. Both the man and woman appeared to be outfitted with gear for roped-in climbing, Mr. Brideaux said, although it isn’t clear whether they were both on the cliff at once or whether one was on the ground belaying the other.
“Heart Creek trail area is a very well-known local spot for rock climbing,” Mr. Brideaux said. “It’s not atypical, on a nice day as it is here today, to have many, many climbers in the area of varying abilities.”
Cliffs in the area are popular for route climbing, Mr. Brideaux said, and the sunny Sunday weather made for ideal conditions. The cliff in question has some previously used bolts in the rock face; it isn’t clear whether the two climbers were using those or inserting their own equipment.
As of late Sunday afternoon, paramedics were still in the process of identifying the two climbers. They didn’t know where they were from, how they knew each other or whether the witness, who saw the two fall at close range and was able to give detailed directions to emergency responders, was climbing with them.
Cliffs around Heart Creek are extremely popular with climbers from a range of abilities, partly because it’s close to Calgary and easily accessible from the highway. The routes there are primarily single-pitch sport climbing, in which one person belays the other from the ground while the climber clips herself into pre-existing bolts in the rock as she ascends.
“On a beautiful Sunday like this, I imagine there would be tons of people there,” said Toby Harper, programs director for the Alpine Club of Canada. The club, headquartered in nearby Canmore, has been around for more than a century. Over the past several years, rock climbing has gone from the sport of thrill-seekers to a much more popular pursuit (it helps that it’s in the running for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics).
“The popularity of the sport,” Mr. Harper wrote in an e-mail later, ‘is testament to the infrequency of tragedies such as this.”