In Marc Piché’s 23 years as a mountain guide, he had never come across an undetonated explosive — until Thursday.
The seasoned ACMG guide was leading a group of students up a multi-pitch ice climb on the north side of Mount Athabasca, about 105 kilometres southeast from the Jasper town site.
“I had just finished telling the group about this story I’d heard many years before about people finding unexploded shells on that glacier occasionally,” said Piché.
“Sure enough, five minutes later we’re standing on the ice and I see this round object sort of poking out the ice a little bit.”
The Canmore-based guide recognized what it was immediately so he got closer to inspect the device to check it out without touching it. While the thermos-sized explosive was rusty, he could still see markings on it and a bit of paint.
The unexploded ordnance, or UXO, is an unexploded weapon, like a bomb or grenade. It dates back to the Second World War, according to the RCMP.
Piché noted the location and took a photo to send to visitor safety specialists in Jasper National Park. His team stayed well above it the rest of the day and passed a few hundred metres to the right of it on their way down.
Piché said the area is a popular training area for alpine climbing and mountaineering courses. The glacier is also frequented by recreational climbers.
“The sun heats up any dark objects and they tend to sink into the ice a little bit. It’s probably been working its way down the glacier for quite a long time now,” said Piché. He guesses they found the device at an altitude of around 2,300 meters, right near the end of the glacier.
Piché remembers being told a story in the mid-’90s about how the shells used to be found fairly frequently on that glacier but one hadn’t been dug up for quite some time.
“My understanding is that it was some sort of training exercises they were doing quite a long time ago for the military,” said Piché, who noted that’s what he was told in the story.
The day after the device was found, it was blown up in place by the explosive ordnance disposal team from the Wainwright Canadian Forces Base, Jasper RCMP said in a news release.