AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Colorado, St. Mary's Glacier

Colorado, St. Mary’s Glacier—On July 26, a party of ten boys from the Thornton, Colorado Church of Christ were on an outing in the area of St. Mary’s Glacier, 12 miles northwest of Idaho Springs, Colorado. The group was hiking up the glacier when Larry Corkran (12) apparently decided to return to the starting place. Evidence indicates the boy returned on the opposite side of the snowfield from which the party ascended.

It is difficult to reconstruct exactly what happened to the boy. A knowledge of the terrain, however, suggests that he left the snowfield and attempted a direct descent to St. Mary’s Lake. The local sheriff estimated the boy fell about 100 feet to a narrow ledge and then rolled another 80 feet down a steep, rocky slope. The coroner said the boy apparently died instantly of multiple fractures. The body was not discovered until the following day.

It is significant that no one realized the boy was missing from the group until they had driven part way home. The group then returned to the area and searched before notifying authorities.

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

Analysis (Davis): The St. Mary’s Glacier area is notorious for mountaineering accidents. The cliffs surrounding St. Mary’s Lake are extremely steep and the presence of snow increases the possibility of slips. From the Lake, however, the dangers are not obvious, partly because of the fore-shortened view of the cliffs. Furthermore, the glacier curves up and behind them so that it is easy to wander directly onto them. The Corkran boy apparently did just this and rather than retrace his steps attempted a direct descent. Unable to judge the dangers, he plunged to his death.

The inexperience of the party is reflected in their failure to miss the boy until long after having left the climbing area and their failure to notify skilled rescuers until their own search proved futile. The need for the ever increasing dispersion of fundamental mountaineering knowledge is reflected here.

Since the area poses dangers both winter and summer, perhaps notices in the area describing these dangers would be in order.