American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Colorado, Mt. Blanca

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

Colorado, Mt. Blanca—On June 18, 14 members of the Los Alamos Mountaineers were camped below the N. Face of Mt. Blanca (14,364 feet). Plans called for the main party to ascend the NE ridge; two members (H. Hoyt, S. Landeen) elected to climb to the NE ridge via a series of 45° snowfields; two members (N. Campbell [29], M. Cooper [35]) chose to investigate the N. Face direct route, that had been climbed less than a half-dozen times; the best time known from camp to summit is 8 hours, made by G. I. Bell and D. Coward in August, 1958. From camp it was clear that more than normal snowfall during the winter had left the face in bad condition for climbing with considerable snow on ledges, and snow and possibly ice in upper high angle gullies. This state of affairs was discussed several times in camp. Campbell and Cooper decided to investigate the route; no decision to try to force the ascent to the summit was mentioned. No bivouac equipment was carried by the two.

The N. Face of Mt. Blanca is about 1500 feet high, rising from a high angle snowfield, and ascending at angles varying from 60° to vertical. The route begins on the west side of the face and goes 400-500 feet to a ledge (called the Boulevard of the Heroes of the Revolution) which ascends diagonally across the center of the face, the route ascends directly to the summit up a series of high angle “gullies.” The difficulty of the climb varies from 4th class to severe 5th class, with the difficulty increasing with altitude.

Campbell and Cooper left camp at 4:00 a.m. MST; the other two parties left approximately an hour later. The night had been relatively warm. The effects of this were noticeable on the snow; large fields were well consolidated, but smaller fields were unsatisfactory for climbing. At about 10:00 the main party reached the first prominence on the NE ridge at approximately 13,000 feet. Thirty minutes later Hoyt and Landeen reached the ridge at a point 200-300 yards from the main party. At no time during the ascents had either party succeeded in locating the climbers on the N. Face. Shortly after Hoyt and Landeen arrived on the ridge, a rockfall on the N. Face was heard by the main party. In searching for the location of this rockfall with binoculars, R. E. Tate, one of the main party observed another rock falling, accompanied by two (presumed) bodies and rope. The rope was clearly visible. The fall took place near the center of the face, and the climbers fell approximately 700 feet before striking the snowfield. They then slid another 400 to 500 feet down the snowfield. The bodies remained motionless after the fall.

Descent to the bodies by Hoyt and Landeen was deemed inadvisable because of deteriorating snow conditions and fatigue. Both parties descended the normal NE ridge route to a point about 300 feet above camp. From here two members left to notify authorities and families. A party of three (T. Newton, R. E. Tate, H. Hoyt) proceeded directly to the location of the bodies, arriving at 3:15 p.m. A second party of three (S. Landeen, T. Doyle, J. Fries) returned to camp for sleeping bags and emergency supplies and then followed the first party. On arrival at the bodies it was evident that both climbers had died instantly during the fall, both bodies being badly broken, with serious head injuries. The second party was sent back by a pre-arranged signal, and the first party returned to camp. Local authorities and members of the party agreed that removal of the bodies from the mountain could be carried out most effectively by U.S. Army Mountain Troops stationed at Camp Carson, Colorado Springs. The evacuation was accomplished the following day. Weather during the day was slightly overcast. Temperatures about 50° to 75° F.

Source: Harry C. Hoyt.

Analysis (Hoyt): Evidence regarding the accident was scanty. Examination of the route with binoculars established that the fall occurred at or near the point where the route goes up from the Boulevard of the

Heroes. A single karabiner was on the rope, possibly having been in a sling used as a belay anchor or possibly about to be placed in a piton. H. Sorenson, civilian adivsor in charge of the Army party, felt that whichever climber fell must have fallen a great distance before striking the end of the rope.

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