American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Colorado, Eldorado Springs Canyon

  • In Memoriam
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1973

Colorado, El Dorado Springs Canyon. On 3 March about 30 feet above the beginning of the second lead of “Calypso”, Steve Kliewer (16), placed a sling around a rock and began a somewhat difficult traverse. After 10 feet moving to the right and slightly down, he placed a nut for protection and continued traversing about 80 feet on a broad ledge to a belay point which he protected (by a nut). He then brought up Dave King (16) who climbed readily to the first point of protection and began the traverse but slightly high. Dave began to have difficulty, so Steve, noting that Dave’s move was protected by the nut, tied off the belay rope at the anchor, and clipped himself onto the climbing rope with a carabiner and walked back along the ledge to the nut protecting the difficult part of the traverse in order to coach Dave, who was then above the nut that protected the traverse. Dave then put in a piton to protect his next move, and Steve removed the nut because Dave would have difficulty getting to it. Steve then started back along the ledge and heard Dave say “It won’t hold me”. Dave fell about 75 feet to the top of a large flake near the base of the climb, landing on his head and fracturing his hard hat. In the process Steve was pulled off the ledge. Steve landed on another ledge and sprained his ankle. Both climbers were conscious at first, but Dave had a broken back and massive head injuries and succumbed within an hour of the arrival of the rescue team in spite of CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) at the scene. Kliewer was assisted to the road by climbers in the area, and the evacuation of King included a routine two bearer high-angle litter lowering.

Source: W. G. May, Rocky Mountain Rescue Group.

Analysis: As is typical of many rock-climbing accidents that have occurred recently, the climbers were climbing beyond their overall capabilities, including not only ability at climbing and placing protection but also judgment as to when and where to place protection and the consequences of related actions. King was somewhat off route on a moderate 5th class climb. Steve was unable to recognize that King would have difficulty getting to a point of protection and thus removed this nut but did not put in additional accessible protection, which is for the benefit of the second, not so much the leader, near the start of a long traverse.

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