American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Climbing Alone, Inadequate Protection, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Thatchtop

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999


Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Thatchtop

On November 15, at 1000, Richard Ladue (37) was doing an unroped solo of All Mixed Up (III, WI4) on Thatchtop when he fell 100 feet to the base of the route. Two nearby ice climbers witnessed the accident, but were unsure if the fall was due to brittle, broken ice or to faulty technique. Ladue sustained a depressed skull fracture on his left temple, below the rim of his helmet, and other lesser injuries. Ladue died in the litter of complications due to the head injury at 1900, 500 feet from the base of the route, as the park’s rescuers were working on his evacuation.


The risks and consequences of unroped solo climbing are multiplied when the medium is ice, considering the changeable and inconsistent nature of ice. To make solo climbing safer, a self-belayed rope system may be employed. Also, the solo is often safer if the route chosen is several levels below the climber’s ability. Ladue wore a helmet, and it is most unfortunate that he was struck below the protection of the helmet. Ladue was an experienced ice climber who had previously climbed All Mixed Up.

The conditions of ice on All Mixed Up were on the thin side due to wind driven sublimation and intense climbing by numerous parties. The route would have been a safer choice in fatter conditions, but as the ice conditions improve, generally the avalanche hazard from a bowl atop the climb increases. (Source: Jim Detterline, RMNP Ranger)

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