American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Inadequate Equipment, Inadequate Protection, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak, East Face

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

FALL ON ICE, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT, INADEQUATE PROTECTION

Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak, East Face

On August 3 at 0700, Jeff Snyder (24) was leading over the icy Mills Glacier to the base of Stetner’s Ledges III (AI 1 5.8) on the East Face of Longs Peak. Snyder had planned to fix anchors in rock at the base of Stetner’s Ledges and then belay Joe Verela, Jr. and Joseph Verela, Sr. (ages unknown) across the ice. Snyder was using the party’s only ice ax and was wearing winter driveway grip- per-type cleats over his shoes in place of crampons. Snyder was 60 feet out on the AI 1 ice without protection and only 10 feet away from rock protection possibilities when he lost his footing and began sliding. Snyder slid approximately 35 feet before self-arresting. He lacerated his right knee on sharp rock protruding from the ice. Snyder then dropped the ice ax to Joe Verela, Jr. so that Verela could get to him and help. However, before Verela could get to Snyder, Snyder lost his position and slid the remaining distance to the rocks. Verala bandaged Snyder’s knee and went for help. Rocky Mountain National Park rescuers responded and evacuated Snyder by litter and Flight For Life medical helicopter to Fort Collins, CO. Snyder underwent one hour of surgery and received 30 staples to repair the 10-inch long laceration.

Analysis

In this case, shortcuts led to long lacerations. It is a common yet sometimes dangerous practice among alpinists to skimp on equipment in order to cut back on weight. The Snyder party had only one ax and no real crampons among three persons. Modern ice axes are very lightweight, and there are many models of crampons to chose from that will work on a hiking boot in this sort of terrain. Also, the leader did not protect this section, which might have helped to offset the lack of proper crampons. One method of placing protection here, yet saving on weight, would have been to cut bollards into the ice and sling them. It was an easy section of ice, yet slippery and dangerous, as is the nature of ice.

Snyder did execute a proper self arrest, which minimized his injuries. Unfortunately, when he gave up the team’s only ice ax to his partner, he was unable to hold his position. (Source: Jim Detterline, Mark Magnuson, Mark Ronca—Rangers, Rocky Mountain National Park)

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