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Carlyle Norman Accident Report

Carlyle Norman in her element on Mt. Yamnuska, Canadian Rockies. [Photo] Joshua Lavigne

Carlyle Norman, twenty-nine, died on January 16 after being injured on January 15, while climbing Last Gringo Standing (6c A1, 500m) on the Patagonian peak Aguja Saint-Exupery (2558m).

Late on January 15, the twenty-nine year-old, Calgary native and her partner Cian Brinker were approximately nine pitches up Last Gringo Standing, when she was struck by rockfall while belaying Brinker. She was found unconscious, having suffered apparent skull fractures. Brinker, secured her to an anchor on a ledge and spent approximately two hours assessing her condition. After no apparent change in her level of consciousness he made the decision to descend and seek assistance. Brinker descended through the night and reported the accident in El Chalten late the following afternoon.

Members of the Red Bull team, in the area filming David Lama on Cerro Torre, were requested to help by the local doctor and rescue coordinator, Carolina Codo. They volunteered their helicopter to make a reconnaissance flight near dusk on January 16 and recorded their flight on film. Upon closer examination of the film taken, it became apparent that Norman had regained some level of consciousness and had moved approximately fifteen meters from where her partner had left her. Given the critical items that she left behind it appears that Norman was suffering from a high level of cognitive impairment. But spurred on by a slim chance that she might still be alive, a rescue was initiated the following morning, Jan 17.

The Red Bull helicopter inserted Jorge Ackerman, Colin Haley, Rolando Garibotti and Pep Masip at the base of the mountain. The foursome climbed into the night enduring high winds, snow, rain and spontaneous rockfall, fixing ropes to facilitate the descent. They were unable to reach Norman’s position and the rescue was called off on the morning of January 18 after a difficult bivouac.

On January 20, when the weather permitted, an additional flight was made to locate Norman. She was no longer on the ledge but was suspected to have fallen. Given that she had left her survival gear behind, it is speculated that she was severally impaired from her injuries and hypothermia and fell from the ledge.

Norman lifting her “Happy Hands” to the sky on the south summit of Mt. Combatant, Waddington Range, B.C.. [Photo] Joshua Lavigne

On January 21, Norman’s body was found in a crevasse at the base of the east face of Saint-Exupery. She could not be recovered and will remain in the mountains.

Note: Climbing in Patagonia is still wild and remote. Helicopters are traditionally not available and will not be available anytime soon. Rescue teams are volunteer climbers with recreational climbing experience. There is no professional rescue in El Chalten. The chance that a volunteer rescue team will successfully climb to an injured climber and evacuate them off the mountain is extremely slim. Self rescue, if at all possible, is the only option for a successful outcome. – Joshua Lavigne and Sharon Wood