Fall on Snow, Climbing Unroped, Inadequate Equipment, Colorado, Red Peak

Publication Year: 1980.


Colorado, Red Peak

On August 5, John Wood (20) and Christina Moir (28) had climbed to the ridge from the west side of Red Peak and came to the top of the couloir. Wood had glissaded the slope before, but never from that high up on the slope, which is steeper at the top. Wood started to glissade down the slope, testing the snow and making a few turns and stops. Moir meanwhile downclimbed some adjacent rock, the rotten, loose garbage typical of the area. Wood decided the couloir was unsafe for descent and said so, suggesting that they return to the ridge and find another route. Moir, however, had just spent 15 minutes downclimbing the rotten rock and did not want to ascend the same route, so she wanted to try the couloir anyway. Both started walking down the couloir (or plunge stepping—Wood was not certain). Wood was ten or 15 feet below Moir when she slipped. As she slid past Wood, he grabbed her but could not hold her and they both slid down the slope. After falling about 50 feet, they had both managed to slow themselves almost to a stop, but could not quite stop completely. Then they picked up speed again. They fell several hundred feet, bouncing two or three times off the rock side walls, before ending in a crevasse. Moir rendered first aid for 45 minutes, then started to walk out for help. Halfway out, she encountered a party of hikers, one of whom ran out the rest of the way. Summit County Rescue Group responded and was aided by an Air West helicopter and a MAST helicopter in the evacuation to St. Anthony’s Hospital.

Wood suffered fractured ribs, a collapsed lung and multiple abrasions and contusions. His metal pack frame was broken into three distinct pieces, and certainly saved him a broken back—if not his life. Moir suffered abrasions, contusions, and lacerations of the face and right arm which required 14 stitches. (Source: Dave Thorson, Summit County Rescue Group)


Neither party carried a rope, ice axe or crampons. When descending such a northeast couloir at the time of year the accident took place, an ice axe is essential. Before descending and while belayed, the climbers should have tested the snow to determine if ropes or crampons were advisable or necessary. (Source: Dave Thorson, Summit County Rescue Group)