American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rock, No Hard Hat, Hypothermia, Colorado, Notchtop

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1984


Colorado, Notchtop

Since there were no witnesses to this incident, the following scenario is based on educated conclusions from the evidence found.

Mark Frevert (28) and Bo Mitchell (19) departed the Bear Lake trailhead early in the morning on February 5, 1983, to do a day-climb of the Spiral Route on Notchtop. Frevert was equipped with touring skis for the seven-kilometer approach, while Mitchell apparently walked. Weather conditions were severe, so bad that another party camped in the area and contacted by Rangers on February 6 reported that they intended to do some ice climbing, but due to the weather, spent little time outside their tent. They neither saw nor heard Frevert and Mitchell pass by.

Frevert left his skis, poles and boots just above Lake Helene, planted on an open snowfield, and ascended the benches and slopes to the base of Notchtop. They apparently were successful in climbing the Spiral Route, as planned, and were descending the West Gully when, about 60 meters above the bottom of the gully and safe ground, they both heard rockfall above. They both turned to look up and were hit head-on by falling rock debris. Frevert sustained a fatal blow to the head and fell, sustaining a fractured femur as well, before coming to rest 60 meters down the gully. Mitchell sustained a blow to the head and also fell with Frevert, but was able to get up, remove his crampons, unclip from the rope (tied in about 20 meters from Frevert in a figure-eight knot), drop his pack and begin walking out. Mitchell descended back to Frevert’s skis, left his ice ax (and ski equipment) and continued on for another 300 meters or so to the east side of Lake Helene. He apparently could go no further in the deep snow on foot, laid down, and eventually died of hypothermia during the night. (Source: Charlie Logan, Rocky Mountain National Park)


As inconvenient as climbing helmets are in winter (in conjunction with balaclavas, etc.), the need for adequate head protection until out-from-under remains undiminished. Wearing helmets may have minimized injuries and afforded more control during the critical moments. Possibly planning for bivouac contingencies, even though only a day-climb was planned, might have saved one life. (Source: Charlie Logan, Rocky Mountain National Park)

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