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Fall on Ice, Climbing Unroped, Inexperience, Colorado, Grace Falls


Colorado, Grace Falls

On January 2, 1983, Chris Waydeveld (19) and Royal Laybourn had topped out on the 35-meter, near-vertical, Grace Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. They were on low-angle water ice at the top, which gently slopes toward the top of the falls. They unroped and started toward the edge of the ice to easy rock and snow. Waydeveld slipped, fell, and started sliding back toward the brink. Laybourn reached out to grab Waydeveld, was pulled off balance, fell, and started sliding as well. Both climbers slid over the edge and fell to the base of the ice climb. Laybourn, incredibly, sustained only minor injuries. (It was later determined that he suffered a mild compression fracture of the cervical vertebrae.) Waydeveld sustained multiple fractures, lost consciousness, and began to suffer from cold, injuries and hypothermia. Laybourn splinted the compound fracture with ice axes, moved Waydeveld to a rock prominence and went for help. Laybourn contacted a Colorado Mountain School guide, Dennis Laird, and his client who were nearby. Laird sent his client to the trailhead with Laybourn and responded to Waydeveld’s location with a sleeping bag, stove, and other equipment.

Laird did a medical assessment, put Waydeveld in the sleeping bag and a bivouac sack, and carefully slid him down to a more protected spot. Low temperatures, high winds, heavy blowing snow and spindrift prevailed. Laird started reversing the effects of hypothermia and generally stabilized Waydeveld’s critically deteriorating status.

In the meantime, word reached Park Headquarters at 1609 that there had been an accident on Grace Falls resulting in serious injuries. A rescue was immediately initiated, and by 1600, the rescue team had begun ground evacuation by toboggan back to Odessa Lake. Waydeveld was flown off by the Air Life helicopter at 1922. (Source: Charlie Logan, Rocky Mountain National Park)

(Editor’s Note: A review of this rescue operation resulted in the recommendation that night helicopter evacuations from this high-relief topography and unpredictable weather area be discontinued.)