A day trip up the Athabasca Glacier on the weekend could have been a disaster for a couple of climbers after one of them was knocked unconscious when he fell into a crevasse.

Officials say two people were planning to climb Mount Columbia but poor weather prompted them to change their plans and they decided to take a hike up the glacier instead. The pair downloaded a GPS track from a travel website and followed the route up the north side of the Athabasca Glacier.

They made it to the top of the third step when one of them fell 30 metres into a crevasse. The person on the surface was unable to make contact with his unconscious partner so he decided to go for help.

Dave McKenna, president of Banff Jasper Collection by Pursuit, confirms the company's Columbia Icefield operations team was notified of the missing recreationalist at approximately 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

"We immediately contacted Parks Canada and first responders," said McKenna in a statement. "The recreationalist was not a guest of the Glacier Adventure nor was the incident related to Pursuit operations in the area."

"Weather conditions did not allow for helicopter assistance.  Therefore, to support Parks Canada’s rescue mission, we provided an Ice Explorer to move the rescue team quickly and safely out onto the glacier.  In addition, we had heavy equipment on standby to assist in bringing the rescue team to the remote area of the glacier wall if needed."

The hiker in the crevasse regained consciousness and changed into his boot crampons to climb out of the fissure. On his way down the glacier, the 24-year-old man from Calgary fell into another crevasse but was able to get out and managed to make contact with a road maintenance crew that was working on the snowcoach road.

Parks Canada says the man declined treatment and left the scene.

Officials say the pair was not equipped with climbing gear or harnesses and had limited experience in the back country. They say the hikers overestimated the strength of the snow bridges and were not aware of the hazards.

Officials are using the experience to remind people to take precautions when travelling in mountainous terrain.

Recreational users are encouraged to:

  • Wear harnesses and ropes when travelling on the Icefields - travelling in roped teams of three is recommended.
  • Use a probe to assess the depth of the snowpack when travelling on a glacier.
  • Thoroughly research your intended route, if visibility is poor it will be difficult to assess overhead hazards such as avalanche slopes, cornices and serac fall potential.
  • Be aware that glaciers are constantly moving and conditions can change quickly. Do not assume that a previous route used to navigate crevasses is safe.
  • Carry a two-way satellite messaging device, and carry it in a hard shelled case to avoid accidental activation.

For information on mountain safety, click HERE.