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Fall on Ice, Climbing Unroped, Inadequate Equipment, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak

FALL ON ICE, CLIMBING UNROPED, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT

Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak

On August 8 at 0745, Scott McLeod (23) and Dana Drummond (age unknown) were ascending the North Chimney (II AI 1 5.6) on the East Face of Longs Peak. Although primarily a rock route, the North Chimney contained hard alpine “black ice” at its base and as patches inside the chimney. They were ascending unroped in order to get a faster approach to the Diamond Face. McLeod slipped on ice and fell 70 feet down the North Chimney. McLeod landed on both feet but sustained closed injuries to his left ankle and right heel, as well as minor abrasions to legs and arms. McLeod rappelled the remainder of the distance down North Chimney with the assistance of other climbers. Rocky Mountain National Park rescuers met McLeod at the base of the chimney, splinted his injuries, and transported McLeod to a landing zone area on Mills Glacier. Flight For Life medical helicopter picked up the patient and transported him to St. Anthony’s Central Hospital in Denver, CO.

Analysis

The North Chimney Route is frequently used as an approach to highly technical pure rock climbs on the Diamond Face of Longs Peak. However, the North Chimney may be considerably more dangerous than the Diamond routes due to poor quality rock, loose rock, frequent rockfall, black ice, occasional large icicles falling out of the D1 exit chimney from the top of the Diamond, and multiple parties climbing on loose rock. There have been an increasing number of accidents on this route in recent years. The North Chimney Route should be taken seriously by climbers. When and where to rope up is a personal decision that each climber makes. In this case, a roped belay in a chimney known for poor rock, frequent rockfall, black ice, etc. would have been a good choice. Climbers should also have fall situational awareness when climbing this route as to climber activity above and below them, and to the many objective hazards of the route. The benefit of wearing crampons when crossing ice or climbing mixed terrain is evident. There are many lightweight models of crampons now available that fit hiking boots and do not take up much space.

McLeod, his partner, and other climbers in the area are to be commended for evacuating McLeod off the technical portion of the route without farther incident or additional insult to McLeod’s injuries. The “Code of the Mountains,” where climbers on other teams drop what they are doing to assist an injured climber, is alive and well at Longs Peak! (Source: Jim Detterline, Mark Magnuson, Mark Ronca—Rangers, Rocky Mountain National Park)