American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Avalanche, Climbing Alone—Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1977

AVALANCHE, CLIMBING ALONE—Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak. On May 2 at 10 a.m. Alan Russell (26) was swept from his stance about 100 feet above the old “cables” by a slab avalanche. Russell fell down high angle rock and snow for an estimated distance of 600 feet sustaining possible fractured ribs and internal injuries. Russell was climbing solo. He was able to walk back to camp at the Boulderfield where he awaited assistance. Colbourn, his companion, went for help. At 1:30 p.m. Colbourn reported from the Longs Peak Ranger Station by telephone to ROMO Dispatch about the accident. St. Anthony’s Helicopter was requested and arrived at the Beaver Meadows Helispot at 2:15 p.m. Mission complete at 3 p.m. (Source: Larry Van Slyke, Rocky Mountain National Park)

Analysis: I telephoned Mr. Russell to follow up on the details of his accident. He said that he had triggered a powdery avalanche approximately 30 × 50 feet in area and was not certain how deep (suspected 6–8 inches) which swept him down the face. He was wearing a climbing helmet to which he gives strong credit for saving severe head injuries, if not his life. He recalled striking his head often and his helmet sustained extensive damage. Mr. Russell did have an ice axe but it was ineffective in arresting his fall. He was released from St. Anthony’s after a thorough examination which revealed only minor contusions. He was climbing solo but used an Edlrid rope to ascend the “cables” portion of the North Face. He left his rope in place to use in descent and was about 100 feet above the fixed rope when the incident occurred. As far as he knows, his rope is still there. (Source: Larry Van Slyke, Rocky Mountain National Park)

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