American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Colorado, St. Mary's Glacier—West of Idaho Springs

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1958

Colorado, St. Mary’s Glacier—west of Idaho Springs—Sunday, February 24, 1957 was a bright sunny morning as Russell Foley (15), Gary Moss (16), Jack Ganley (18), George Garramone (16), and Ellis Lance (17) packed their lunches and left their parents not indicating their exact plans. They went directly to the St. Mary’s parking area and walked up to St. Mary’s Lake. They arrived at the lake between 11:00 and 11:30 A.M. The sun had been shining sharply on the snowpack all day. On the west side of the lake, conditions were good for creation of a large snow slide.

Similar conditions had been observed the previous Sunday, Feb. 14, when Roger R. Balke had been in the area. At that time there had been no recent snow slide but two rather long fractures were observed high up on the snow pack. The highest fracture was about 300 feet long and ran diagonally up from a southern point to the north. The other fracture was shorter and ran diagonally down from the south end of the longer fracture.

After the boys had finished lunch, their attention was attracted to a steep rock formation protruding from the snow field. The formation is about 200 feet long and starts about 320 feet from the shores of St. Mary’s Lake. It runs straight up at about a 70 to 75 degree angle. This formation looked like an interesting climb so the boys crossed the frozen lake and started up.

R. R. Balke arrived at the St. Mary’s parking area at 1:35 P.M. After putting on climbing skins he began the easy one-mile climb to St. Mary’s Lake. About half way to the lake, at approximately 2:00 P.M., Russell Foley was seen running down the trail. His right coat sleeve, arm and hand were covered with blood. He said, “My God, we’ve had a terrible accident—we need help.” Balke asked him how many men were hurt and he replied three. Balke then told him there were two cars in the parking area and that he should take one. Balke gave him the keys to his car, and told him to drive to the nearest telephone and phone the Idaho Springs Fire Department, tell them of the nature of the accident, and ask them to bring three litters to the scene.

Balke then proceeded to the lake as quickly as possible and found three boys lying in the fresh avalanche snow. Gary Moss was in an unconscious state and was breathing poorly. He had two very bad cuts on his face and head—one about 8 inches long, the other about 9 or 10 inches. A great deal of blood was on his head and in the snow. Jack Ganley was about 20 feet to the right of Moss and had a wound on the top of his head. Ellis Lance was lying on his stomach about 10 feet to the left of Moss. Balke tried first to stop Gary Moss’s bleeding. After sprinkling surgical powder on the cuts he bandaged the head as tightly as possible. He then used his first aid equipment on Jack Ganley to stop the bleeding. At this point help arrived with blankets and jackets. Gary Moss was lifted enough to place a blanket underneath him and a jacket at his head and shoulders. Balke was concerned about danger from further snow slides, so it was decided to move the boys to a small clearing by the lake. Four men moved Moss the 150 feet to the clearing and returned for Lance and Ganley.

Balke then rigged a litter from his skis and poles, placing the baskets over the ski tips and crossing the poles to the opposite ski. The rig was secured with the skins. A tarpaulin was placed on the litter and the evacuation of Moss begun. Foley returned with Balke’s climbing rope and the rope was used to make a carrying rig for the litter. At first, four supports were made but after a short distance two more supports were made for middle men. Near the shelter house by the lake, the Idaho Springs Fire Department was met with three proper litters and Moss was immediately transferred to one and carried to the parking area. The other litters were taken up to the accident scene to bring down Ganley and Lance.

The very quick response of the Idaho Spring Fire Department and the National Forest Service made the full rescue possible in record time. The Clear Creek County Sheriff’s officers assisted and had three ambulances on hand to take the boys to the hospital at once. Gary Moss died of his injuries, February 25, 1957, at 3:00 A.M. from loss of blood, shock and exposure.

Source: R. R. Balke, H. F. Walton.

Analysis: (Balke). The boys had no experience climbing and had no experienced climber in their party. They started a climb in a dangerous spot after the warm, clear sun had all morning to prepare the right conditions to trigger an avalanche. The boys didn’t observe or know the meaning of the fractures at the top of the steep snow field. No consideration was given to points of protection to be found anywhere on the climb, so the entire party was exposed for the entire duration of the climb.

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