American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Unroped, Possibly Off Route, Washington, Guye Peak

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


Washington, Guye Peak

On October 13, Ken Colburn (49) was climbing Guye Peak with a friend when he fell 300 feet over a cliff to his death. The two had just unroped near the summit when they reached easier terrain after climbing the west face. Ken was traversing across moss-covered wet rocks above the 300-foot cliff when he apparently tripped or slipped about 30 feet from the edge of the cliff. His friend was ahead when he saw Ken fall and try to grab some scrub alpine trees, but his fall and acceleration were so quick that he was unable to stop himself from going over the edge of the cliff. Rescuers later found Ken’s hat at the location where he fell some 30 feet above the cliff. The body was recovered by helicopter the next day.


In one 50-meter section, the normal scramble/descent route drops down the north side of the ridge, to avoid a steep, exposed section of rock. Ken fell to the south side of the ridge, from approximately the location of this steep area. He appears to have been off route. This is common route finding error of this peak. Believing he was on a scramble route may have led Ken to continue without a belay even though he was on exposed, technical ground. (Source: Dave Rusho, Seattle Mountain Rescue)

(Editor's Note: There were five climbing incident reports from Mount Rainier this year—in addition to the heart attack report. Two were overdue parties who returned without injury. One case involved a climber being hit in the abdomen by a “football sized” rock while ascending above Disappointment Cleaver. While the climber was able to descend on his own with his partner, it is worthwhile to note that the rock had been dislodged by a guided party above and they did not shout a warning.

Another incident involved a party of three who called for help when they experienced AMS and dehydration at the top of Disappointment Cleaver. After rehydration, rangers escorted them on the descent to Camp Muir.

The fifth incident involved two parties of two being struck by an avalanche at 13,500 feet on the Liberty Ridge Route in May. A helicopter evacuation was required.)

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