American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Colorado, Mt. Thorodin

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

Colorado, Mt. Thorodin. On 10 June Joseph Willoughby (20) and Garris Flebbe, both moderately experienced climbers, saw a storm approaching while on a technical climb of the West Face of Mt. Thorodin and began their retreat. Willoughby was rappelling while Flebbe was near the top end of the rope half way up the face waiting his turn when lightning struck. Willoughby, perhaps 50 feet below Flebbe on the nearly vertical face, was immediately struck unconscious, and Flebbe had a temporarily paralyzed arm. Flebbe managed to lower Willoughby to a ledge and administered CPR to no avail. With no signs of life in Willoughby, he rappeled off the rest of the way and called RMRG, which performed the evacuation after a delay caused by another severe lightning storm. The victim’s hands appeared to be burned. The litter evacuation of the body from the face was straightforward, using a self-equalizing piton anchor.

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

Analysis: The climbers, both experienced, recognized that a lightning storm was coming and were descending, but Colorado lightning storms can move in or develop very rapidly.

The climber lower down was killed — it was he who was on the rope. Although the rope (Perlon) did not appear damaged, some current must have flowed along it. Both climbers were exposed to ground currents.

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