American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Bad Weather, Exhaustion, Off Route, Climbing Alone, Inadequate Equipment — Colorado, Thatchtop Mountain

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1983


Colorado, Thatchtop Mountain

On December 16, 1982, Michael Dorsey (24) left the trail head for a solo ice climb in the Thatchtop-Powell area. The weather conditions were marginal but Dorsey decided they were not bad enough to turn back. He successfully climbed a 260- meter, high-angle snow field and topped out on the Continental Divide in extremely poor conditions (80 kph winds, blowing snow, freezing temperatures and very poor visibility). Battered by high winds and with his eyelids freezing shut, Dorsey attempted to descend Thatchtop Mountain until he ran into very difficult terrain. During the attempt, he twisted and injured his knee. He than decided to turn back and find an easier descent route. Without realizing it, he began descending the opposite side of the Divide, toward Grand Lake. He dropped down into the North Inlet drainage, thinking he was in the Loch drainage, and kept moving all night. In the meantime, he broke though a snow bridge over a stream and soaked his boots and legs. Eventually, he realized that something was wrong with the landmarks and decided to climb up to a ridge top to get oriented again.

Dorsey gained the ridge, located himself, and decided it would be wiser to go back down and head in the direction of Grand Lake. Before leaving, he dug in for the night and spent much of his time massaging his legs and feet.

On December 18, Dorsey headed down. Due to his injured knee, deep snow and sapped energy, the going was very slow and he ended up digging in for his third night without food, fire or liquids. On December 19, he continued out, finally reaching the trailhead abut 1600. Here he was helped at a private residence and was able to call the Park personnel who, by that time, had called in 70 rescuers and had spent 818 hours on the project. (Source: Charlie Logan, Rocky Mountain National Park)


Although Dorsey made some serious mistakes from the very beginning, he managed to keep and use his wits to save his life—and limbs. He claims that matches, compass and other basic essentials will not be overlooked again. (Source: Charlie Logan, Rocky Mountain National Park)

(Editor’s Note: There were undoubtedly other accidents elsewhere in Colorado last year. We are trying to get more comprehensive data from these areas and would welcome help, ideas and contacts.

It is worth noting that I received some reports of hiking accidents in Rocky Mountain National Park which resulted in one death and one serious injury. The fatality was a 12- year-old boy who, after seeing a mountaineering slide show, became “almost obsessed with the desire to climb a mountain and slide a snow field,” according to his parents. He became separated from his family on a hike to Flattop Mountain; his body was found two weeks later at the bottom of a couloir west of Emerald Lake.

The serious injury involved a 19-year-old female who was with four friends when they decided to slide down a snow field on Fall Mountain. She lost control and broke her leg when she slid into the rocks.

Helping hikers understand the speed with which a walk or a “fun” slide can turn into a mountaineering situation requiring another level of skill remains a challenge.)

This ANAM article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.