FALL ON ROCK, FAILURE TO FOLLOW ROUTE, WEATHER, PROTECTION PULLED OUT
Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak
On October 11, Chris Sproul (26) and David Sweedler (37) began the Notch Couloir (III, AI 3, 5.5) on the East Face of Longs Peak. Sproul and Sweedler gained the top of the Notch feature at 13,900 feet, but then encountered extreme winds and blizzard-like conditions coming out of the West. They decided to traverse along the base of the palisades at the top of the East Face to stay out of the wind, and then top out on Kiener's Route. Once atop Kiener's Route, they intended to traverse below the summit to the descent route for the North Face, which would enable them to stay clear of the main force of the wind and storm. However, when they got to the base of the “Open Book” feature on Kiener's Route, they were unable to figure out the route (go right, up, and over the infamous “Diamond Step”) and became stranded in the storm without overnight supplies. At one point, Sproul attempted to climb up the “Open Book,” but fell, pulling all anchors but one. Both he and Sweedler damaged their helmets and sustained minor head injuries. Late on October 13, Sproul figured out the “Diamond Step” and climbed out to get help for his partner. Early on October 14, Sweedler was rescued by the RMNP rescue team. Both Sproul and Sweedler sustained serious frostbite to hands, feet, and face, and may lose some fingers and toes.
The nasty first-storm-of-winter that hit Sproul and Sweedler was exactly on time as predicted. Less ambitious plans would have prevented this epic. This misadventure seems to repeat itself every Autumn. The ability to route-find as a mountaineer (the “Diamond Step” is only third class) is more critical to success on the big mountain than is the ability to force a straight line, a strong trait among many pure rock climbers. Despite any judgment errors on the part of Sproul and Sweedler, they should certainly be commended for their will and strength to survive. (Source: Jim Detterline, Longs Peak Supervisory Climbing Ranger)