PULMONARY EDEMA, CLIMBING ALONE
Colorado, Longs Peak
Stephen Weiswell (20) arrived in Boulder, Colorado, from Massachusetts. He climbed for a number of days in the Boulder area (5000 to 6000 feet in elevation), then went directly to the Longs Peak Area. He departed the Longs Peak Ranger Station and parking area (9500 feet) on February 24, with a heavy pack and hiked about two miles where he spent the night (about 10,000 feet). During the night Weiswell experienced a “tightness” in his chest and somewhat labored breathing, which he contributed to just being tired.
The next morning Weiswell moved his camp approximately 1½ miles to Jims Grove at 11,000 feet. This apparently took most of the day. From the time he went to bed the evening of February 25 until sometime February 27, at the hospital, Weiswell remembers nothing of the events which followed. At 10:15 a.m. on February 26, Doug Snivley informed dispatch that he had encountered an individual at Jims Grove around 8 a.m. Weiswell was found with his feet sticking out from his tent. Snivley had to wake Weiswell and ask him if he was all right. He responded dopily that he was and that he wanted to be left alone. Snivley told him to get into his sleeping bag; he did so and Snivley left the scene. On the way down the mountain, Snivley encountered two skiers and asked that they check on Weiswell when they got to Jims Grove. Shortly after Snivley left the scene, the party of three noticed that Weiswell was lying about half outside his tent. When they contacted him, they found him to be shivering a great deal, mumbling, and
in a general state of confusion, unable to help himself. Michael Faber traveled to the Longs Peak Ranger station and notified dispatch of the situation by phone, at 11 a.m. During this time span, the skier joined them at the scene and they all assisted in helping Weiswell. Based on the information received, Ranger Seibert was dispatched to the scene on foot. St. Anthony’s helicopter was requested and Rangers Casebeer and Van Slyke and Dan Gossett (emergency labor) followed Seibert with evacuation gear. Helicopter evacuation was completed by 4 p.m. It was learned from the hospital in Denver the next morning that Weiswell had acute bronchial pneumonia and pulmonary edema.
It should be noted that Weiswell had not checked with Park personnel prior to his departure from the Longs Peak Ranger Station as required by federal regulation. No one knew that Weiswell was on the mountain. It is only through the efforts of Doug Snivley, John Tuckey, Michael Pitts, Michael Falen, Tom Tracy and Ron Wallace that Weiswell made it off the mountain alive, as the attending medical personnel indicated Weiswell had only about one hour to live due to the fluid accumulation in his lungs. (Source: Larry Van Slyke, Rocky Mountain National Park)
(Ed. Note: While not a mountaineering accident per se, this accident is reported to demonstrate again that pulmonary edema occurs at lower elevations, that being alone in the mountains can add complications if one becomes ill or injured, and that inexperienced hikers are subject to the same hazards as mountaineers.)