American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Inadequate Belay and Communications, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1986


Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

On April 27,1985, on Old Man Mountain, Toby Cotter (30) was demonstrating rappel and belay techniques to two friends and was explaining the importance of maintaining belay control at all times. Then, to demonstrate, and without warning, Cotter suddenly let go of his rappel. The belayer lost control and Cotter fell uncontrolled down the rappel rope, coming to rest on a ledge and suffering from extensive multiple trauma.

Treating physician, Bert Bergland, later reported significant injuries included: depressed skull fracture, multiple facial fractures, fractured clavical, fractured forearm (both bones), and hypovolemic shock. Cotter was transferred to Denver in stable condition. (Source: Charlie Logan, Ranger, Rocky Mountain National Park)


It is common practice for guides/instructors to show beginners how belay techniques work by allowing them to hold a fall or strain on the rope. This demonstration is best done during a ground school for the first several times. (Source: J. Williamson)

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