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Touring the Canadian Rockies Safely

Each year, those touring the Canadian Rockies suffer numerous hiking, scrambling, or climbing accidents. Several of them are fatal. Although some accidents are not preventable, there is usually something to be learned from all of them. The majority of epic adventures, that almost turn disastrous, can be avoided. Here are a few ideas about making a trip safer.

Before Touring the Canadian Rocky Mountains, whether Hiking, Scrambling, or Climbing, ask yourself several questions:

Is my objective realistic and obtainable by all members in my party?

In June 2001 a hiker/climber disappeared in the Three Sister Wilderness area of Oregon. The hiker had planned an early season 64 km (40 mi) traverse of three mountains (elevation gain of 3000 m / 10,000 ft) in a single day without ice axe or crampons. The search involved 250 people, 28 agencies, and more than 6000 searcher-hours and was called off without ever finding the hiker. The trip was called "aggressive" by the search coordinator. This is an example of an objective that has significant hazards and is likely unrealistic for most people.

Do I have the necessary skills for the objective?

The skills may vary depending on the route. Avalanche hazard analysis, first aid training, wilderness survival skills, my personal climbing or hiking ability, self rescue ability, and other related experience are all considered.

Do I have the necessary equipment?

Depending upon the objective and motivation, equipment lists varies considerably. Always carry a few essentials; map, compass, headlamp, knife, whistle, lighter/matches, water, and food. View the Clothing & Equipment section for more information.

Have I collected the necessary information?

The information to look for before heading out includes trail descriptions, weather forecasts, route or avalanche conditions, bear or wildlife activity reports, water levels, and trail condition reports. You will often discover potential difficulties before heading out. Alter your plans accordingly.

Have I made a trip itinerary?

Make it a personal habit to always complete a trip itinerary form and leave it with a friend. In case of an accident, the form will assist rescuers with helping to locate you. It also helps prevent a mix-up in communication and an unnecessary and unwanted false rescue.

Mountain Safety in the Field

Skills such as hazard recognition and analysis, scrambling and climbing ability, navigation, first aid, wilderness survival and general mountain sense can not be adequately learned from a book or a website. We strongly favor learning how to travel safely in the mountains by finding a mentor, joining a local outdoor or climbing club, attending workshops or courses, or hiring a certified guide.

Mountain Sense and Hazard Analysis

Mountain sense is a general term used to describe overall experience and understanding of mountains; geological and geographical features, weather patterns and climate, ecological zones, previous experiences, and skill levels. The better your mountain sense, the better you are able to recognize potential hazards and make good decisions.

Accidents and Emergency Response

Being mentally prepared for an emergency often makes the difference between quick and decisive actions and a complete lack of control. Mentally rehearse how you would handle different scenarios under the stress of that situation when it might occur.

In the event of an accident or emergency, the response is to:

  • 1. Take control


  • 2. Ensure my personal safety and the safety of my group by reducing or eliminating further hazards.


  • 3. Assess the situation and determine the level of urgency and required response.


  • 4. If available, consider the use of radio or cell phone for additional support or rescue.


  • 5. Conduct first aid as required.


  • 6. Conduct a self-rescue or prepare for an organized rescue.






Canadian Rockies Destinations

Banff | Canmore | Fairmont | Fernie | Golden | Invermere | Jasper
Kananaskis | Kimberley | Lake Louise | Panorama | Radium | Waterton
Canadian Rockies Tour Destination Index
  Backcountry
  Banff, AB
  Canmore, AB
  Kananaskis Country, AB
  Lake Louise, AB
  Waterton, AB
  Jasper, AB
  Radium, BC
  Invermere, BC
  Fairmont Hot Springs, BC
  Panorama, BC
  Kimberley, BC
  Fernie, BC
  Golden, BC
  Special Collection
  Accom Index



          Once identifying a potential hazard.
          Whether a stream crossing, a wildlife encounter, exposed ridge, or rock fall, you need to analyze it. Only after thoroughly analyzing the risk, make a decision. Sometimes this only takes seconds, for others take a break to search for or discuss alternatives.


    A proper analysis includes:
    • Am I prepared for the risk? (rope, bear spray, ability)

    • What are the consequences? (such as a fall)

    • What is the likelihood of the risk? (again, a fall or bear attack)

    • Can I minimize the risk? (choosing a different route)

    • Is the risk acceptable?



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          Suggested Readings & Videos
          Here are a few mountain climbing safety books that are useful, which in some way or another will help to keep you from getting into an emergency, or may help you get out of one.




    • Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (Editors: Don Graydon and Kurt Hanson)
    • Self-Rescue (David J. Fasulo)

    • Rope Safety Systems in Climbing: Video (University of Calgary)

    • Backcountry Bear Basics (Dave Smith)

    • Staying Safe in Bear Country: Video (Safety in Bear Country Society)

    • Medicine for Mountaineering & Other Wilderness Activities (James A. Wilkerson)

    • Hypothermia, Frostbite & Other Cold Injuries (James A. Wilkerson, MD)

    • Outdoor Leadership (John Graham)

    • Backcountry Avalanche Awareness (Bruce Jamieson)

    • Avalanche Safety for Skiers & Climbers (Tony Daffern)

    • Accidents in North American Mountaineering (American & Canadian Alpine Clubs)
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