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Rescue crew members board a helicopter in Pemberton, B.C., on Jan.12, 2015, to search for three missing ice climbers who were later found dead near Whistler.Dave Steers/The Canadian Press

Three experienced climbers attempting to scale an icy gully north of Whistler, B.C., have fallen to their deaths, tied together in what should have been a safety precaution.

Staff Sergeant Steve LeClair, of Whistler RCMP, said Monday that the climbers were wearing crampons, which are specialized boots used in icy terrain, and were still connected when they were found. He said that the hikers fell nearly 600 metres down a cliff, landing about 300 metres below what is known as the Central Couloir, a narrow gully with a steep gradient.

The victims were a male and female in their early 30s from the Lower Mainland and a female in her early 20s who appears to be from outside of the country, the RCMP said. They have been described as experienced mountaineers. The climbers were with two skiers who went looking for them when they did not arrive at the agreed-upon meeting point.

Local RCMP said that they received a report at about 1:30 on Monday morning that one person was dead and two others were missing. A search was instigated at first light and all three bodies were quickly located from the air. The bodies were removed from the mountain just after noon and transferred to the coroner, who will conduct an investigation into the cause of the accident. The names of the climbers were not released Monday.

Brian Jones, an experienced mountain guide who operates a mountaineering school in Vancouver, said the Central Couloir is located on the north face of Joffre Peak and is the most commonly climbed couloir on the mountain. Joffre Peak is a popular winter destination for both back-country skiers and climbers.

"It's a well-known, classic alpine route that attracts experienced climbers," said Mr. Jones.

He said the couloir has a middle difficulty, with slopes in the 50-degree range and short sections that are even steeper. Climbers would typically use screws and ropes to anchor themselves to the ice face and prevent falls.

Mr. Jones said that, contrary to what is sometimes portrayed in extreme outdoor videos, ice climbing is typically "not an extreme sport," with most climbers taking a number of safety precautions to prevent accidents. He said the type of alpine climbing that the victims were most likely engaged in requires very specialized knowledge, including the ability to assess the conditions.

"The majority of climbers are engaging in an activity that they prepare and plan for and do it with a reasonable amount of caution," said Mr. Jones, adding that climbing the couloir would be a reasonable objective at this time of year. He said fatalities are very rare.

Marlaina Rhymer of the B.C. Mountaineering Club said that there could have been a number of causes for the accident, from the climbers not using safety equipment to the safety equipment not holding if the ice breaks or melts.

"It's absolutely terrifying, and it's so sad," said Ms. Rhymer.

The three bodies have been handed over to the B.C. Coroners Service. Spokewoman Barb McLintock said that preliminary findings indicate that the accident was not the result of an avalanche. Pemberton Search and Rescue confirmed that the avalanche risk was low in the area.