American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Colorado, Animas Peak

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

Colorado, Animas Peak—On July 24 during the annual summer outing of the Colorado Mountain Club, a strong party of Elwyn Arps, William Davis (31), John Filsinger, and Gus Hallum (33), was formed to make the climb of the north face of Animas Peak, a sustained and fairly severe technical climb. The ascent was uneventful although it took longer than had been anticipated.

Descent was made by the regular route used to climb Monitor Peak from Noname Creek. The route follows a steep gully which at this time of year is usually filled with snow. The party was descending this gully at the time of the accident.

Davis was in the lead and kicking steps downward. He had angled across the snow in the hopes of getting onto rock shelves at the side. Just before stepping off onto the ledges, Davis slipped and fell about 6 feet, before making a self-arrest just at the edge of the snow and rock.

The exact sequence of events is unclear but it seems most reasonable that Davis struck his elbow just after falling. The blow was severe enough to dislocate the shoulder. Davis’ ice axe wedged on the rock saving him from plunging on down the gully, although he was making active efforts to get into an arrest position when he stopped.

First-aid was rendered at the scene of the accident and the party continued to camp under its own power. Davis was able to walk although in pain from the dislocation. The available medical doctors were not in camp at that time (one had returned to town and the other was in fly- camp in the next valley) so one of the nurses attending the outing administered sedatives and immobilized the injury. The next day, Davis rode a horse to the narrow gauge railroad stop and proceeded to the hospital in Durango. The dislocation was reduced about 28 hours after the accident. Recovery has been complete.

Source: William Davis.

Analysis (Davis): Several factors contributed to the accident. Hurrying on the descent was one. Failure to consider the snow conditions was another. The north face had been in shadow for sometime and the snow was rapidly freezing. The step-kicking process had become more difficult and in a few places steps had been chopped. The party should have roped up in light of the steepness of the gully and the changing conditions. Davis had slipped once before and this warning should have been heeded, although the slip was not severe and a self-arrest had been successfully executed. Carelessness was enhanced by the lateness and consequent eagerness to return to basecamp.

The Colorado Rockies are usually not considered the type of mountains requiring crampons; this single piece of equipment, however, would have contributed to the safety of this party and probably would have prevented

the accident. Had the party had crampons a quick, safe descent would have been possible.

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