STRANDED, POOR COMMUNICATIONS, INEXPERIENCE, WEATHER
Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Twin Owls
On June 9, 1992, at 1000, Brandon Latham (20) and Tom Anderson (19) began an ascent of Twin Owls via the East Ridge I (5.8). At 1200 Anderson was at the top of the second or final pitch, and he began to belay Latham. At this point, an intense thunderstorm had moved into the area, bringing with it loud thunder, bursts of lightning, and heavy rain. Anderson and Latham were unable to communicate with each other. Latham assumed Anderson would be rappelling down, so he untied himself from the rope. Anderson assumed Latham was climbing, and pulled in all of the slack rope until he found the untied rope end, minus Latham. Still unable to communicate with Latham, Anderson climbed over the top of Twin Owls and descended the “Bowells” to get help. Rangers Rick Guerrieri and Rik Henrikson responded by rappelling to Latham's location from the top. Latham was assessed for possible hypothermia and then lowered to the ground.
Poor communications due to noisy environmental conditions is the cause of this incident, which could have evolved into something even worse. It is imperative that climbing partners agree on a set of silent signals, such as a series or rope tugs, before they ever start a pitch. In any case, the partner should never untie himself from the rope when communications are unclear, especially in the middle of a multiple-pitch climb. (Source: Jim Detterline, Longs Peak Supervisory Climbing Ranger, Rocky Mountain National Park)