Colorado, Mount Evans, North Face

Publication Year: 1958.

Colorado, Mount Evans, North face—On Sunday, June 23, the following set out for a technical climb of Mt. Evans: T. Alpha, B. Bruvold, W. Davis and C. Walsmith (31). Because the sun had not reached the north face and the wind was cold, the party chose to climb west of the face on the west ridge. Heavy snows from the spring remained on the north slopes of the peak. The party first traversed to the west seeking a route up a snow-filled gully. They roped at the base of the gully but abandoned the attempt after climbing upward some 20 feet. While waiting to see if the route would go, Walsmith lost his balance and fell from the rocks at the side of the gully into the snow. The fall was short and appeared to be a minor slip.

A second minor slip occurred as Bruvold was descending from the gully. While kicking steps, he lost his footing and slid 10 to 15 feet downward, stopping himself with an ice-axe arrest. He was opposite his belayer at the time and did not fall far enough to take up the slack in the rope. Leaving the gully, the party sought a route up some steep slabs.

Walsmith, belayed by Alpha, began the pitch. He ascended straight upward for approximately 25 to 30 feet. At that point he encountered a delicate friction pitch with few holds. He tried the pitch once without success and then attempted it a second time. Davis, who had been watching the lead from the bottom, perceived that Walsmith was in difficulty and alerted his belayer that a fall was imminent. Walsmith slipped from the friction pitch, was unable to stop himself at its bottom and continued to roll and slip past his belayer to a ledge 10 feet below the belay. The rope wedged in a slab 4 or 5 feet above Alpha but did not prevent him from providing an excellent dynamic arrest.

First aid was given immediately. In addition to cuts and bruises, Walsmith wrenched a knee and ankle. He was able to walk from the scene of the accident to the cars. A 60 foot rappel was necessary to get the party from the slabs to the snowfield but this was accomplished without accident. The accident occurred at 11:25 A.M.; the cars were reached in about one hour; and the injured party reached medical care by 2:00 P.M.

The climbing experience of the party was widely varied. Davis is Chairman of the Colorado Mountain Club Technical Climbing Committee and has had several years mountaineering experience including snow and ice work. Walsmith and Alpha had both attended the CMC Technical School and were regarded as having good natural climbing ability, although limited experience. Bruvold had little climbing experience although acquainted with the basic rope handling technique.

Source: H. F. Walton; W. E. Davis.

Analysis: (W. E. Davis). As leader, Davis seems to have committed three errors. First, not enough concern was shown for the inexperience of the party. This was seen at the start of the climb with failure to rope up prior to beginning the gully. It is easy for a long-time climber to forget that the steepness or exposure which seems commonplace to him may be severe to the novice. Second, the leader failed to appreciate the psychological effect of the two minor falls prior to the accident. These slips were unnerving and the confidence of the party was shaken. Third, the leader failed to caution Walsmith even though it was obvious he was in difficulty. A word of warning probably would have prevented Walsmith from attempting the delicate pitch a second time; however, Davis failed to say anything that might deter him. A more important question is whether or not Walsmith should have been allowed to lead the pitch following the earlier slip. It was natural for him to lead since he was in the right position to move first up the slab but whether or not it was wise for him to do so remains unanswered.

The fact that Walsmith was able to brake his fall by sliding down the slab and the preparedness of Alpha undoubtedly prevented more serious injury. Dynamic belaying is much easier if the belayer is prepared to let the rope run rather than being caught by surprise.