American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Colorado, North Maroon

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1971

Colorado, North Maroon. On 15 August Edward H. Hilliard (47), and Ann Noyes Fowler (39), Rodney Aller (53), and Rodney Aller, Jr. (21) started at 7:00 a.m. from the bench at timber line below the dam on the northeast side of the North Maroon.

There was doubt in the mind of Hilliard as to how far the party should traverse across the south face of the mountain to find the usual summit route, and the party apparently traversed too far to the south while searching, without success, for cairns to indicate the route.

The party finally ascended the couloir above and immediately to the north of the main snow basin on the east face. The danger from loose rock had been apparent to the party from the beginning. All wore hard hats. Loose rock was encountered throughout the climb and the members kept closely together to prevent falling rocks from gaining speed. Exercising utmost care, numerous rocks were nevertheless set loose during the climb.

Near the top of the couloir the party roped up using slings and carabiners. Hilliard led the first two roped pitches belaying the other members as they climbed separately.

At the last pitch before the top of the couloir Hilliard suggested that because of some weakness in one of his arms the younger Aller could effect a stronger belay and asked him to lead the final pitch, which was nearly vertical. Rodney Aller, Sr. was then belayed on the final pitch and joined his son in a seated body-belay position on top of the ridge which offered a possible though difficult access to the summit. Hilliard called up that there was a knot in the rope which he would try to untie before he or Ann Fowler came up. At that point in setting his feet for the seated belay, Rodney Aller, Sr. moved a rock about the size of a flat iron and shouted “rock” as it rolled toward the lip of the couloir. Before it hit the lip it struck a larger loose rock about 15 inches long and he again shouted “rock” as both went over the edge. There was no cry or other sound than that of falling rock heard from below. There was no pull on the rope. Looking from the top of the couloir there was no sign of Ed or Ann. The two Allers, roped, descended the Couloir for about half an hour to find the body of Ann Fowler approximately 200 yards below the start of her fall where Ed Hilliard’s ice ax had been recovered. Her eyes were open and glazed, her mouth and nose were blood filled. There was no respiration and no pulse could be determined by either of the Allers. The body showed signs of obvious fracture and numerous severe injuries. They placed her bright orange parka over her, and placed her in a more secure position and removed her pack.

They descended during a snow shower approximately 300 yards further to Ed’s body which lav face down near the edge of a drop. There was no discernible respiration or pulse and the temperature of wrist and hand was already noticeably cold. There were clear indications of numerous severe injuries.

The Allers were agreed that assistance from the Aspen Mountain Rescue Unit was essential to recover the bodies. They descended through rain to their camp by a higher traverse than that used on ascent and found several cairns indicating the usual route to the summit. They carried out the four packs to Maroon camp site, arriving there around 5:00 p.m.

On arrival in Aspen, Fred Braun of Aspen Mountain Rescue, and Sheriff Whitmore’s office were contacted and a recovery party of a dozen volunteer members of that organization was flown in by Jeff Pease of Pease-Hamilton Flying Service on the following morning by helicopter.

Source: Rodney Aller.

Analysis: 1. Wherever excessive amounts of loose, unstable, or rotten rock is found, climbing should be avoided. 2. Where rock of this type is climbed, extreme care must be exercised. Hard hats are essential, as is close vertical spacing of the climbers to eliminate dangerous acceleration of falling rock. In steep sections the party should remain continuously roped with only one member at a time assuming the risk of exposure to falling rock. 3. Specific knowledge of the route to be climbed is essential. 4. If a car used for access is to be left locked, the key should be left at the car and all members of the party should be made aware of its location.

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