A witness who was at Grassi Lakes near Canmore on Saturday afternoon where a woman died in a hiking incident says she was hit by a falling rock.
RCMP said on Sunday the victim was a 20-year-old woman from Calgary who died after falling 35 metres. According to police, she was with one other person.
EMS responded to an area near Spray Lakes Road at around 12:30 p.m. in the Grassi Lakes rock climbing area on Saturday.
The woman was pronounced dead at the scene, EMS said.
Kyle Jackson was climbing at Grassi Lakes on Saturday. He said there was a gust of wind and he pulled into the wall to make sure he didn’t get hit with any rocks.
“When I looked to the side, I saw someone walking down a path and all of a sudden I heard a crack and a thud and she stumbled and fell headfirst into some rocks just off the path,” Jackson said.
He said the woman was walking downhill on a scree slope.
“She was just walking down the path by herself. She was going to join her party that was downhill from her,” Jackson said.
“It was pretty scary and my instant reaction was I need to get down there and help but I need to make sure I get my gear and myself off the wall safely so I didn’t fall and end up in a similar situation, which would’ve been very unfortunate,” Jackson said.
He said the woman didn’t have any climbing gear with her.
“I didn’t see a harness. I didn’t see any other gear on her, she was just wearing running shoes, just kind of general hiking clothes, so I don’t think she was climbing. She didn’t have a backpack and she didn’t look to be carrying any gear and the people in her party didn’t have any gear,” Jackson said.
After witnessing the tragedy and getting down the rock wall he was climbing, Jackson went to investigate where the rock may have come from.
“We drove up around the top after we had left and there was a lot of sheep up there and goats and stuff, so we were thinking that they were probably knocking some of the rocks loose combined with the wind, which would’ve blown them off,” Jackson said.
“When I was climbing, there was a lot of times where the wind would pick up and then you would just get blasted with the gravel and sand. So a combination of the wind and I think animals knocking the rocks loose is what caused it to happen.”
Climbing experts say there are always technical risks and risks from what other people are doing around you. Tom Waddell, the former president of the not-for-profit Calgary Scrambling and Mountaineering Company, said there are some things you can’t really control for, like rock fall.
“Goats walking around on the top, they are knocking rocks down,” Waddell said. “Even sometimes rodents running around, especially after the big rain we had that can loosen things up quite a bit. And the other thing that can happen at Grassi Lakes and some other areas, if you get people up above throwing rocks down or moving around dislodging rocks.”
Waddell says he has seen people who were unaware of other users below at Grassi Lakes, tossing rocks down.
“There can be people up above. I have seen people up on the top of the road not too far from the dam sort of on the wrong side of the guard rail, actually throwing rocks over the side. There’s been once or twice where I have personally had to stop and tell people, ‘Don’t do that,'” Waddell said.
He also recommended that all climbers, as well as scramblers, wear a helmet.