Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: Dale Atkins; WWAN
Place: University Range in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Ultima Thule Peak
Summary: 3 climbers caught, 1 buried, and killed
***REPORT PROVIDED BY ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS***
Climber dies in avalanche
Famed Canadian mountaineer swept off Wrangell cliff
By CRAIG MEDRED
Daily News outdoors editor
All the years of living dangerously caught up with 41-year-old Canadian
mountaineer Jim Haberl on a moderate slope in the University Range
southeast of Glennallen on Thursday.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Superintendent Jon Jarvis
said Haberl died when a relatively slow-moving slab avalanche swept him
off a 20- to-30-degree slope and over a 1,000- to 1,500-foot drop.
The death of Haberl, one of the first Canadians to reach the 28,250-foot
summit of K2 in the Himalayas, brought to 12 the number of people killed
by avalanches in Alaska this year.
"We're about three times the normal," said local avalanche expert Doug
Fesler, who also noted the avalanche season is far from over.
Avalanches also have killed eight snowmobilers, two snowboarders and a
heavy-equipment operator this year. Haberl is the first climber to die, but
the climbing season is just beginning in much of the state.
Fesler placed part of the reason for the increase in fatalities on a boom in
Haberl, the author of two climbing books, was an experienced mountaineer.
The American Library Association's "Booklist" had this to say about one of
his books, "Risking Adventure: Mountain Journeys Around the World" -
"The book is most interesting when Haberl recounts firsthand his moments
of emotional crisis, as when his best friend fell to his death after reaching
the summit of K2, or when members of his climbing party in the Andes
were downed by an avalanche of ice boulders the size of refrigerators."
"I knew this guy," Fesler said. "He was a young guy with no ego, a good
writer and a very good photographer."
Jarvis said Haberl had flown into the University Range with Canadian
companions Keith Reid, 39, and Grame Alan Taylor, 36, on Sunday. They
planned to climb an officially unnamed 10,000-foot peak known locally as
The name had been hung on the summit by guide and pilot Paul Klaus from
the nearby Ultima Thule lodge. Klaus flew the climbers to a landing strip
near 6,000 feet, according to the National Park Service.
Jarvis said the climbers were approaching Ultima Thule when the accident
"They were breaking trail," he said. "They'd left their packs and were
returning to get them."
According to Park Service rangers and Alaska State Troopers, who
interviewed Reid and Taylor at the Gulkana airport, the men were traveling
on skis in calm weather on a 5-degree morning. They were crossing a 20-
to 30-degree slope - what might be considered intermediate terrain at a ski
area - about 7 a.m. when a 100-foot-wide, 3-foot-deep slab of snow let go.
Haberl, according to the Park Service, was about 30 feet in front of Reid
and Taylor. Reid and Taylor, according to troopers, were caught in the
"broad, but slow-moving slab," but were able to swim free.
Haberl, however, was swept over a cliff.
"It took him right over the edge," Jarvis said. "He was killed by the impact.
It took (Reid and Taylor) several hours to climb down to the site."
Rangers said the two surviving climbers found gloves, a hat and bloody
snow. They then began probing for Haberl. It did not take them long to find
him and dig him out from under 3 feet of avalanche debris, but he was
His head injuries from the fall were severe, the Park Service said.
Reid and Taylor summoned help by switching on an emergency location
transmitter. The signal was picked up by the Rescue Coordination Center
on Fort Richardson, which called Wrangell-St. Elias park ranger Tim
Sawkoski. He began searching for missing pilots in the Glennallen area.
Sawkoski soon discovered Klaus had given the Canadian climbers an ELT.
Klaus subsequently returned to the site, found the survivors and flew them
out on Thursday. Haberl's body was retrieved Friday by his climbing
companions and Klaus.