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Fall on Rock, Exceeding Abilities, Inadequate Belay, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park


Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

On August 3, 1985, I was on Mt. Meeker with two friends when the following happened. I had begun the last pitches of the Flying Buttress which consisted of approximately two rope lengths of traversing. Apparently I had chosen a harder variation, which was in the neighborhood of 5.8.1 placed one piece of protection and ran out of rope halfway through the traverse. Kurt Magsamen had to climb to where I had last placed protection to give me more rope and to eliminate rope drag. The tremendous exposure on the traverse made for a very intimidating climb. The almost unbelievable exposure may have contributed to eroded confidence on the part of the victim.

Kurt was the second person to follow the traverse, and he remarked that it had some pretty hard parts. Kurt set up a pretty good belay for Chris Collom (20) who was the last to do the traverse.

Chris was the last member of our party to negotiate the traverse. I was investigating the descent route, when I heard Kurt say, “We’ve got problems; Chris took a big fall.” Kurt was supporting all of Chris’ weight until he was able to right himself.

Chris later told us about his fall. He said that he just came off the rock and started flying through the air. Chris estimates that he pendulumed approximately ten meters before crashing into a protruding section of rock. Most of the impact of the fall was absorbed by Chris’ hip, which was smartly bruised.

Chris was able to walk out on his own power although he was in obvious pain. Kurt had done a good job of holding Chris’ fall. (Source: Clayton Jackson)


The severity of the fall Chris took would have certainly been minimuzed if he had gone second, because he would have been belayed from both sides. Many falls that occur on traverses result in a pendulum, and the individual falling many times crashes into some sort of rock outcrop. If a person can be belayed from both sides, the possibility of a pendulum is all but eliminated. Therefore, the least experienced member of a climbing party should be belayed from both sides to avoid what happened in this situation.

It had been two years since Chris had done any substantial climbing, so he was a good candidate for being in the middle. (Source: Clayton Jackson)