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Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak

Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak. On 14 August Chris Chidsey (14) and his father, Dr. Charles Chidsey, left their camp near the Chasm Lake Shelter Cabin for an ascent of the East Face of Longs Peak via the Alexander Chimney and Upper Kieners routes. By early afternoon they had climbed Alexanders and traversed Broadway ledge to the base of the Notch Couloir. Dr. Chidsey took up a belay (but did not tie in to any anchor) from a small ledge a short way up the right side of the Couloir, and his son began to lead a section known as Kieners Chimneys (fourth class). Chris traversed ten or fifteen feet around onto the East Face, from the belay ledge, but instead of climbing up (as is customary) at this point he continued traversing around to the right, across a rib of rock, and then started up a groove, only to fall off after a short while (at 1345). Chris fell over a small overhang down to Broadway, bounced off that ledge, and came to rest just above the breakover point of the smooth 800 foot face below, some 10-20 feet below Broadway. The whole fall was about 50 feet. Both the wedge shaped artificial chock and the blade piton he had placed for protection were pulled out by the fall, but the rope luckily ran over a spike of rock above the belay point which served as a natural runner. Friction of the rope on the rock, the natural runner, and the wedging action of a small crack allowed Dr. Chidsey to hold the fall without difficulty, but lacking an anchor he was hard put to secure the rope and come to Chris’ assistance. Luckily, two climbers were following the party, and promptly pulled Chris up to the relative comfort of Broadway. Chirs suffered a broken lower leg.

After Chris had been brought back up to Broadway, he was made comfortable in a fairly sheltered spot. His pain was controlled with oral Demarol, and blankets were obtained from a nearby Rescue Cache. The two climbers of the other party then went down to get help. Onlookers at Chasm View were also alerted by shouts and some of these left to summon assistance. Since the emergency telephone system was out of order, runners had to travel some seven miles back to the Longs Peak Ranger Station to alert the rangers. Two Rangers flew up to the Chasm Lake Shelter Cabin, and then climbed on up (through the dark in a fog) to the injured party. Little other than moral support was needed immediately, as the equipment on hand was adequate to withstand the mildly sub-freezing temperatures present. In the morning it was determined that Chris would be unable to hobble around at all, and an evacuation was planned. Six more members of the Rocky Mountain National Park Rescue Team were flown up to the Shelter Cabin, along with the necessary equipment, which they then brought up to Broadway. Chris was then lowered, along with a rescuer, in a Tragsitz, some 800 feet down to the snow at the base of the face. Since he weighed only 120 pounds, he was carried in the Tragsitz down to Chasm Lake which was crossed in a rubber raft, and the carry continued to the Shelter Cabin. After a break of an hour and a half Chris was placed on a horse, and he reached the Ranger Station around 1800.

Source: Walter Fricke and Steve Hickman, RMNP Rangers.

Analysis: Inexperience in route finding is clearly the most important precipitating factor in this case. The Kieners Chimneys section is not particularly tricky to find nor hard to climb, while the detour Chris got off onto does not even begin to look like fourth class rock. Inexperience also played a part in the failure of either of the two points of protection placed to hold. With experience comes the ability to balance one’s skill against the probability of a fall and its likely consequences. Most climbers have placed less than perfect protection at one time or another, but in this case good protection was available. Similarly, the failure to anchor the belay would, but for kind fortune, inevitably have led to catastrophe in this case. Dr. Chidsey feels that fatigue was making inroads on both judgment and ability, and that, having recognized this, he should have turned back. This is a rather fine point of hindsight. While it is true that the party had not been making particularly good progress, it is also true that the climbing ahead was not, in theory, difficult, the weather was good, the hour not too late, and retreat not all that easy. It is worth noting that, over the years, unroped falls from this portion of the Kieners route have led to three fatalities.