A couple celebrating their third wedding anniversary found themselves hiking down a slippery Banff mountain in the middle of the night, after a thunderstorm left hundreds trapped on the Alberta peak.
Yaro Slav said he and his wife were waiting at the top of Sulphur Mountain around 9 p.m. on Monday to take the gondola back down when they heard rumours coming through the lineup that something was wrong. They didn’t know it at the time, but a storm had knocked out the power to all of Banff and cut off the gondola with it.
For the next five to six hours, Mr. Slav said he and more than 400 other people were left to crowd into the peak’s restaurants and gift shop, and wait.
“The gondola staff kind of left us in limbo. There was no clear information about what to expect,” he said.
He said workers handed out emergency blankets and warm drinks and snacks, but no one told them what was happening or how long they might be stuck on the mountain. People clad in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops found spots on the floor or tables, and did their best to sleep. Others splurged on hoodies and jackets from the gift shop with the words “Banff Gondola” splayed across the front to try and stay warm.
Temperatures got down to 8 C in Banff’s town centre, according to Environment Canada.
Leah McCorkill, who was visiting from Calgary with her five-year-old son and a friend from Ontario, said they tried to make the best of it, but that she saw some people growing frustrated and a small number head down the mountain on their own despite pitch-black skies, falling rain and warnings from gondola staff.
Around 2 a.m., Ms. McCorkill said staff announced a group of volunteer rescuers had made their way up the mountain and could help guide some people down. Knowing she had a cancer treatment appointment to attend in the morning, Ms. McCorkill decided it was worth it.
The rescuers had headlamps, and some people had cellphone flashlights, but Ms. McCorkill said the mountain was otherwise completely dark as they traversed the steep 5.5-kilometre switchback trail. The rocks were slick underfoot, and she said she saw one woman having to be supported by two people after twisting her ankle and another person seemingly injured on the side of the path.
For the most part, though, Ms. McCorkill said it was calm and everyone chatted amongst themselves to pass the time: “It was actually quite a beautiful walk down.”
By around 4:30 a.m. they made it to the mountain’s base: “I had a really memorable time,” Ms. McCorkill said.
A group of stranded visitors hiked down Sulphur Mountain in Banff, Alberta early Tuesday morning after the gondola they had taken up suffered a power failure.
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Mr. Slav, who also made the trek down with his wife, said they are also looking back on the night as an adventure. “The communication with this company wasn’t ideal, but other than that we had fun,” he said.
Pursuit, the company that runs the popular attraction, said in a statement that it used a backup generator to offload guests who were stuck in the gondola cabins at the time of the outage. Those who remained on the mountain in the morning were either allowed to hike down or were airlifted by helicopter.
Pursuit communications director Tanya Otis said severe weather has halted their gondola in Banff in the past, but never for such a long period of time. The company said it will refund the affected guests for their tickets.
The gondola reopened to guests as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Banff Gondola Facebook page.
With reports from The Canadian Press