Three climbers who were killed in a 2,000-foot fall on Joffre Peak in the Canadian Rockies have recently been identified as Neil McKenzie, 31, from Scotland; Stephanie Grothe, 30, from Germany; and Elena Cernicka, 35, of British Columbia. According to a statement from the coroner, the climbers had fallen down a passage while navigating the mountain in the Pemberton area, north of Whistler, British Columbia.
The trio was part of a larger group of five who were climbing the peak on Sunday, January 11, 2014. According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, however, they appeared to have split off from the group in order to walk up a steep chute, known as the central couloir. The three climbers were wearing crampons and were roped together at the top of the couloir when they fell, the RCMP said.
Although all three climbers were experienced mountaineers, the peak is notoriously dangerous—even with experience and the proper equipment—according to Paul Cordy, an experienced backcountry skier who spoke with CBC News. “It’s a very serious route,” he said, “steep enough that if you do start to fall, it is possible you will not be able to stop yourself.”
McKenzie, who lived in Vancouver, was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia. Grothe, who also lived in Vancouver, also attended the University of British Columbia, where she was a PhD student in physics and astronomy. Cernicka, a native of British Columbia, was the mother of two young boys and worked as a patient safety coordinator at a healthcare company in Vancouver.
While mountain climbing is considered dangerous—and ice climbing even more so—there have been relatively few deaths in North America over the past 20 years or so. The American Alpine Club, which includes Canadian activities, reported there were just 15 deaths in 2007 directly attributed to climbing accidents, and the numbers continuously decrease as climbing equipment and training gets better. By contrast, there were 53 climbing deaths in 1956.
At this moment, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are still investigating the deaths. Meanwhile, the families of the victims have all been notified.