American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rock, Fall on Ice, Faulty Use of Crampons, "Pitons" Pulled Out, Inadequate Equipment, Exceeding Abilities, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1990

FALLING ROCK, FALL ON ICE, FAULTY USE OF CRAMPONS, “PITONS” PULLED OUT, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT, EXCEEDING ABILITIES

Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

On July 31, 1989, Paul Hammond (21), Erik Larson (17), and Carl Steger (21) were traversing from rock across the ice of Lamb’s Slide to the start of Broadway Ledge. Hammond was leading the traverse with a single ax and crampons strapped to sneaker-type hiking shoes. He dodged a falling rock and fell, pulling out eight 14-inch (36 cm) wood spikes that he had placed for intermediate protection. Steger was belaying but was not anchored; he was pulled off his stance and began falling. Larson had untied himself before the accident occurred. Hammond slid 60 meters and arrested himself with his 70 cm LaPrade ice ax. Steger slid an additional 60 meters beyond Hammond and was stopped by Hammond on the 9 mm rope. The rope caught around Steger’s neck like a hangman’s noose and he sustained rope burns, in addition to pericardial tamponade and numerous lesser injuries. Hammond injured his left ankle. They walked to the trailhead without assistance. (Source: David Essex, Chief Park Ranger, Rocky Mountain National Park)

Analysis

This party was not trained and equipped for ice climbing, having only one ax and only one pair of crampons per three persons. The hinged crampons were incompatible with Hammond’s boots. Wood spikes cannot take the place of ice screws or pickets. The belay was not effective because the belayer was not anchored. The accident occurred at 1400, a dangerous hour for crossing this rockfall-prone slide. Opting to walk out instead of immobilize and stabilize injuries could have caused serious medical complications. This party had climbed together for several years on small rock climbs in Missouri and had little experience on ice or alpine terrain. Hard ice conditions were present on Lamb’s Slide. (Source: David Essex. Chief Park Ranger, Rocky Mountain National Park)

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