American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fatigue—Fall on Ice, Inexperience, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Main Falls

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


Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Main Falls

On December 8 about 1000, Aaron Shupp (22) fell 20 to 30 feet while leading the Main Falls Route (I WI4) at Hidden Falls. Shupp said that he was about 10 feet beyond his last ice screw when he began to “sketch out.” He attempted to place protection but could not hang on. Shupp ran out of strength and purposely submitted to a leader fall, alerting his belayer that he was coming off. As he fell, Shupp left both hand tools and a glove dangling from his last position on the ice. Shupp caught a mushroom of ice with his right crampon and heard a loud “crack.” He then impacted on the midway ledge of the water ice formation and was stopped by his previous ice screw. Shupp’s belayer, Seth Ian Friedly (age unknown), lowered Shupp to the base of the climb, where they determined that Shupp was unable to walk.

Friedly left the scene to get his pick-up truck and drive it around the locked gate off-road and onto the closed road at the Deerhaven Trailhead. Friedly failed to notify authorities of the accident even though the Wild Basin Warming Hut at the summer trailhead was open and staffed. The three-person Scott Dimetrosky party stayed at the scene and waited for Friedly to return. Upon Friedly’s return, they assisted Shupp down the talus slope to trail, where two other ice climbers took over in assisting Shupp and Friedly back to Friedly’s vehicle. Shupp and Friedly were met at the vehicle by ranger Eric Gabriel. They refused medical treatment and transport. Friedly transported Shupp to Boulder Community Hospital in his personal vehicle.


To lead an ice climb is a serious proposition. Modern hand tools, crampons, ropes, and ice protection have improved the safety aspects of the sport considerably, but these are no substitute for experience, good judgment, and proper physical conditioning. Because ice conditions on the same route change considerably from day to day (and even within the same day), may vary on the climb, and and are difficult to assess, it is recommended that beginning ice climbers receive professional instruction and afterwards apprentice themselves to an experienced ice climber before attempting to lead ice. In general, leading an ice climb is much more complicated by objective hazards than is leading a rock climb. Falling on ice should be avoided at all costs due to the inherent hazards of having all the sharp metal points around the leader moving at velocity, as Shupp discovered when his crampon caught on ice and injured his leg.

Shupp had minimal experience and lacked sufficient strength to safely lead Hidden Falls. Some “tricks” that experienced ice climbers have employed upon finding themselves in a similar situation have been 1) catch a loop of rope over top of a securely-planted ice ax as a temporary belay whereas the belayer could tighten up on the leader and allow for the placement of protection; 2) attach an ice tool to the harness of the leader with a fifi hook or carabiner to allow the leader to place protection; 3) place a temporary fast piece of protection such as a spectre sling to allow the placement of a better piece; or 4) down-climb to the last piece of protection to avoid a leader fall.

Due to the inherent hazards of our sport, climbers should consider first aid training and should also be aware of their limitations in effecting a rescue. When interviewed by a ranger/medic at the trailhead, Shupp and his party said they did not have any significant medical training, yet declined assessment and treatment. Given Shupp’s fall, this decision could easily have exacerbated any injury and, potentially, had significant consequences for the patient. It is very possible, especially when dealing with the victim of a long fall, to farther injure the patient with improper assessment and treatment. (Source: Jim Detterline, Mark Magnuson, and Eric Gabriel—Rangers in Rocky Mountain National Park)

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