American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Colorado, Mt. Olinger, Turkey Creek Canyon

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1961

Colorado, Mt. Olinger, Turkey Creek Canyon—On June 27, Philip E. Jensen (17) fell while descending Mt. Olinger in Turkey Creek Canyon southwest of Denver, Colorado. Jensen was killed in the 400 ft. fall which resulted from a piton failure. He was the leader of a four-man party that included his brother (14) and two other friends.

Reports indicated the party had successfully ascended the rock face, about 600 ft. high, and were on their second rappel when the accident occurred. One member had already rappelled and Jensen was second when the piton worked loose and he plunged to his death. The accident was witnessed by William Keiper from his cabin on the opposite side of the valley. Keiper notified rescue groups who led the rest of the party to safety. Jensen had carried the group’s only rope with him in the fall.

Source: Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News (William E. Davis, Safety Chairman, Colorado Mountaineering Club).

Analysis (Davis): The newspaper reports suggest this party was not adequately experienced for the climb they were undertaking. Certainly they were under-equipped with only one rope. None of the climbers was known to be a member of a climbing organization nor to have had any formal technical rock instruction.

Rappelling is such an inherently dangerous practice that to undertake it without some safety precautions, particularly a belay, seems inexcusable. The inherent danger of using only one piton for a rappel point also seems too obvious to need elaboration. In spite of these facts, however, rock climbers continue to use elaborate precautions for ascending (dynamic belays, pitons and bolts frequently placed) and then to throw all caution to the wind in descent (rappelling unprotected on a single rappel point). This accident, perhaps, resulted more from lack of knowledge of protective procedures than in their inconsistent application.

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