After accomplished climber Catlin Hannah plunged to his death in Kananaskis Country, his friend, Harold Alfano, shuddered at greenhorns scrambling up treacherous slopes.
Hannah, 27, died on Aug. 12 when he fell 300 metres after scrambling solo to the top of Mount Smuts in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
Rescue officials who found his gear around his body and atop the 3,000-metre peak concluded Hannah likely slipped on loose rock, a constant danger in the Canadian Rockies. That hazard that may have taken the life of a 30-year-old Calgary woman last Saturday on the east end of Mount Rundle, southwest of Canmore.
“I trusted my life with Catlin because of how good he was,” said Alfano, who had scaled a number of peaks with Hannah and expected to be on Mount Smuts with him on the fatal outing.
“He was skilled … so many people have no clue what scrambling really is. It’s full-on mountaineering without ropes on a mountain falling apart.”
Hannah, a father of a two-year-old boy, was an enthusiastic mountaineer with dreams of scaling many peaks but would always exercise caution, said Alfano.
“We bailed on a couple of plans to do Mount Smuts because of safety,” he said.
In Saturday’s fatality, the woman was with two other hikers when she slipped and fell on a slope obscured by wildfire smoke, said authorities.
It’s a popular scrambling spot on the east end of Mount Rundle — perhaps too popular, said Alfano who has traversed it himself.
“People ask, ‘What’s a good place to start’ and everyone sounds off, ‘It’s the east end of Mount Rundle,’ but it doesn’t make it any less dangerous,” he said.
Mount Smuts more challenging class 5 scrambling moves, while Rundle’s east end is a class 2, said Alfano.
Lawrence White, executive director of the Alpine Club of Canada, says too many people who set out to scramble slopes are ill-equipped and over-confident.
“It’s a fairly popular scramble, but once you get above the tree line the trail isn’t obvious and it’s not surprising people wander off the route or underestimate what they’re getting into,” said White.
“What might look like a solid handhold can come loose in an instant,” he said. “If it doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t.”
He says few scramblers wear a helmet during their ascents, noting that the east end of Rundle “is notorious for rock falls.” The woman who fell on Saturday has not been identified, and it’s not known whether she was wearing a helmet or how experienced she was.
On June 3, a 58-year-old Calgary man died near Rawson Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park when he slipped on ice and snow and fell about 20 metres.
Photographer Matt Snell, 26, died while descending Tunnel Mountain near Banff townsite on June 8, though he was using climbing equipment.
And last month, a 65-year-old B.C. man died while scrambling near Mount Lipsett in Kananaskis Country.
White said it’s vital those who plan on scrambling up and down mountains be fully prepared and aware of the risks.
“Research, research, research and don’t overestimate your abilities,” he said.
Alfano echoed that, adding that with the increasing popularity of scrambling and easy access to those crumbling scree slopes means caution is more key than ever.
“It’s the one-upmanship of danger,” he said.