American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow, Climbing Alone and Unroped, Exceeding Abilities, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mount Meeker

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 1998

FALL ON SNOW, CLIMBING ALONE AND UNROPED, EXCEEDING ABILITIES

Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mount Meeker

On August 14, Scot Eden (25) was injured while attempting to descend from a partial ascent of Left Gully (a.k.a. Dream Weaver—II, AI 2), on Mount Meeker. Eden had turned around on the route when bad weather began building. While downclimbing the steep snowfield at the base of the route, he slipped and was unable to self-arrest with his ice ax. He slid 200 feet down the snow, went over a 15-20 foot rock band, and then tumbled another 100 feet. Eden sustained a fractured right tibia and soft tissue injuries to the left orbital area of his face. Eden then crawled a quarter mile over the next six hours until two climbers heard his calls for help. The climbers stabilized Eden with a sleeping bag and hiked out to notify Rocky Mountain National Park Rescue Team for the evacuation.

Analysis

Although the Left Gully is an easy to moderate snow climb, it becomes icy in midsummer and demands respect. Scot Eden was only moderately experienced at most in snow and ice climbing techniques, and he obviously learned about the risks of solo climbing on this accident. Downclimbing snow and ice is always more difficult than ascending. Three points of contact with the snow/ice need to be maintained at all times when downclimbing, and often you have to consciously remind yourself to go more slowly and deliberately. Mistakes on icy slopes must be corrected immediately or corrections may become impossible. Falls with crampons often result in ankle injuries, as it is difficult to keep crampons from snagging on something while falling.

There are alternatives to downclimbing in case of retreat on Left Gully. From the notch behind the Flying Buttress where Left and Right Gullies come together, one may rappel one long or two short rope lengths to a ledge system, which is then followed out toward the left. One could also rappel icy sections of the Left Gully on rock or by cutting bollards for anchors on the ice. The final snowfield where this accident occurred may also be skirted to the south on scree. (Source: Jim Detterline, Longs Peak Supervisory Climbing Ranger)

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