American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Party Separated, Climbing Alone, Colorado, Sangre de Cristo Range

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987

FALL ON ROCK, PARTY SEPARATED, CLIMBING ALONE

Colorado, Sangre de Cristo Range

On July 28, 1986, a Colorado Mountain Club party of 12 approached the east side of Ellingwood Peak (4307 meters) in the Sangre de Cristo Range in southern Colorado. The leader and party were strong hikers, but not experienced climbers and none of the 12 had seen or done the route before. The east face is a continuous wall that rises from 3680 meters up to the narrow summit ridge. The wall is broken in one area by a steep series of rocky grass covered ledges. Variations in climbing speed caused the group to spread out. When rocks bounded down from the climbers above, several below turned back. As the ledges turned difficult, the leader decided to call a halt to the climb and shouted ahead for all to come back. The victim, Michael Levine (42), who had climbed the highest, shouted, “Why?” and continued to the ridge.

Levine had not returned by nightfall, so the group returned to Colorado Springs, after informing the Sheriff of Huerfano County of the situation.

Extensive and widespread foot-searching by Colorado rescue groups, aided by helicopters, failed to lcoate the victim.

On August 31, a possible sighting of clothing in a small, shallow ravine on the sheer face, slightly south and 245 meters below the Ellingwood summit, proved positive on September 2 when the body recovery was made. The site was at the 4000 meter level where a ledge in the ravine stopped his freefall. Assumption is that the victim was going for Blanca Peak, and fell while dropping south of Ellingwood summit on a rocky ridge to Blanca. After reaching the body by a difficult ascent and rappel, it was bagged and lowered off the wall, followed by an evacuation to the roadhead. (Source: Peggy Parr, El Paso County Search and Rescue)

Analysis

This area is full of crumbly rock and severe drop-offs. The terrain demands caution and reduced speed. The victim needed a ride home from another climber in the party, and was probably hurrying to include Blanca Peak. (Source: Peggy Parr, El Paso Search and Rescue)

(Editor’s Note: No mention is made as to why the victim felt he could question the leader’s decision. It is indicated that the victim was considered to he experienced.)

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