Ice Climbers Narrowly Escape Massive Avalanche On Polar Circus, Canadian Rockies

Sergei Poljak | | AvalancheAvalanche
Climbers being overtaken by Avalanche on Polar Circus, (WI5) in Banff National Park. The lead is on the right edge of the climb. Photo: Alex Ratson

Alex Ratson and some climbing partners were scoping out the Icefields Parkway north of Banff when they spotted a parked car and it occupants most of the way up on Polar Circus, a 700-meter, WI5 route – one of the most coveted in the area. As they stepped out of the van, a giant avalanche ripped down from above the route, obscuring all but the lead climber. The photo above shows only the lead climber visible as the avalanche descends down the route. Another avalanche came down as the first finished. Alex and his crew could feel the blast of the avalanche all the way down at their van and quickly got back inside. 

The aftermath of the slides. Photo: Alex Ratson

We were at the base of the amazing Polar Circus today after seeing a car parked there. Knowing it was climbers all three of us started thinking about how awesome it would be to get on it and seconds later, not even fully out of the car one of the largest avalanches erupted making us jump so much we jumped back in the van as it slide to valley bottom and blitzed it out of the way. Getting back out of the van we could feel the blast of the slide and our guts start turning as we started to realize there was a good chance we just witnessed two fellow climbers take the last swings of their tools ever. We alerted Park Safety and continued to watch the route to eventually see movement and then another, much smaller but still noteworthy slide come down. After which the climbers reappeared and booked it down.

– Alex Ratson

Polar Circus should not be attempted during high avalanche danger; numerous climbers have perished here including climbing legend John Lauchlan. As clearly evident by the pictures, these climbers were extremely lucky to have survived this event. Please make careful evaluations when you are in dangerous terrain.

Thanks to and Alex Ratson for beta on this event. 

Polar Circus. Photo: Rockies Ice Specialists

Related Articles

Got an opinion? Let us know...