American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Colorado, Long's Peak

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1964

Colorado, Long’s Peak. On August 4 with a clear and sunny sky, Ben Crouse, Gib Gilbert, and Ted Gutmann left Chasm Lake at 8 A.M. to climb the East Face of Long’s Peak by the Alexander’s Chimney route and on to the summit. Return to Chasm Lake was planned by descent of the North Face (Cable) Route. To reach the base of the Chimney it is necessary to cross a short snow field at the foot of Lamb’s Slide but, as it is frequently used steps are cut across here. On the advice of experienced climbers from the area, no ice axes or crampons were taken. After climbing the Chimney and traversing to the right (Alexanders Traverse), two other parties were encountered coming off Stetner’s Ledge (due to the deteriorating weather) and both proceeded up Hornsby’s Direct. Hugh Shepard and Chuck Delbridge, both of Denver, constituted one rope while Kenyon King and Clarence Gusthurst, both of Fort Collins, Colorado, were on another rope. Heavy fog settled on the face and a misty rain began; thunder rumbled although there was as yet no lightning. The rock was too wet and the weather too threatening to continue the climb. Crouse, Gilbert, and Gutmann accepted the offer of a rope up to Broadway Ledge (about halfway up the East Face) where all seven men decided to descend at once, unroped, and walked along Broadway to its intersection with Lamb’s Slide.

A retreat across the glacier was now required. This had not been anticipated and no one had any ice equipment. The party did not rope up. The starting point was about 300 feet above the morning’s crossing at Alexander’s Chimney. Shepard and Delbridge went first, then after an interval, Crouse, Gilbert, and Gutmann, and finally King and Gusthurst. The snow surface was soft near the edge but the center of the glacier was ice. All seven men, unroped, tried to descend directly to the steps at Alexander’s crossing. About 100 feet below Broadway Crouse slipped and slid a few feet arresting himself with the chisel point of a piton hammer. Gutmann also caught him by the pack. Gilbert, cutting steps with a piton hammer tried to approach to help hold Crouse. As Crouse tried to kick a toehold he started sliding again. Gutmann’s small toeholds would not allow him to hold on. Crouse then slid out of sight into the fog and all the way to the bottom of the glacier, estimated to be a total of 600 feet. It took 45 minutes to reach the victim who was in a 4-foot glacial gulley of rushing ice water about 20 yards from the bottom of the glacier. He was conscious with an obvious broken right thigh. Shepard immediately went for help. Crouse was hauled up out of the crevasse by an improvised carabiner pulley system anchored by rock piton and carefully slid onto the rocks below the glacier. Gusthurst then went for Crouse’s sleeping bag. He returned in 3 hours. About 2 A.M. a rescue party of Park personnel and a litter arrived. Twenty hours after the accident Crouse was in a hospital. His right femur was shattered and an operation was required to piece it together.

Source: Crouse.

Analysis: (Crouse) The following would have been helpful in avoiding the accident:

Appointment of a party leader when the three parties joined on the Broadway ledge. Since no leader had been appointed each man went off by himself when the glacier was reached.

Proper choice of equipment for all alternate routes in case the climb could not be completed as originally planned. The Gilbert Party had planned to reach the summit via Alexander’s Chimney, Alexander’s Traverse, Notch Chimney, and the Open Brook formation, and return via the cables on the North Face. Weather called a halt to our advance and we retreated via South Broadway and Lamb’s Slide. We were unprepared for this undertaking, having no ice gear at all. Neither of the other two parties were equipped either.

It should be noted that Crouse was wearing a fiberglass hardhat which probably saved his life when he struck the side of the crevasse and numerous times during the terminal (tumbling) stage of his fall when his head struck rocks imbedded in the surface of the glacier. This same hardhat had successfully resisted a rock of about 5 lbs. which struck Crouse earlier in the day after it had fallen 800 feet down the East Face from Broadway to the base of Alexander’s Chimney.

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