American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow, Placed No Protection/Belay, Exceeding Abilities, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1992


Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak

On August 2, 1991, at 0630, Judy Swales (41) and partner Randy Moss were climbing snow on Lamb’s Slide on Longs Peak. As the pair got close to Broadway Ledge, Swales slipped on snow and fell, pulling Moss down with her. They tumbled 300 to 400 feet before Moss was able to self-arrest. Moss was unhurt but Swales sustained a fractured left wrist and sprained left ankle. Colorado Mountain School guides Jack Gorby and Steve Young, in the area, climbed up to Moss and Swales and lowered both individuals to the base of Lamb’s Slide. They then ran to Longs Peak trailhead and contacted the park service, who completed evacuation with a litter team and horseback evacuation.


By August, the surface of Lamb’s Slide is quite hard and somewhat icy. It is an especially good idea to belay beginning climbers when conditions are like this. However, it is extremely difficult to self-arrest in the event of a fall, as illustrated by this accident. A safer ascent strategy would have been to ascend the right side of Lamb’s Slide using the rock wall for easily inserted protection while climbing tandem. This would minimize the chances of a long fall but allow fast, efficient ascent. The right side of Lamb’s Slide is also the best protected area from rock fall, which is common on this feature. (Source: Jim Detterline, Ranger, RMNP)

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