American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Missing/Overdue, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 2003


Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

This report is the amalgamation of five different incidents that, although singularly were not significant, collectively illustrate how minor problems that can grow into much larger incidents. In 2002, 25 of 28 rescue calls at Rocky Mountain National Park were for missing/overdue parties. Between June 19 and August 18, five of these calls were for parties that were missing/overdue from attempts/ascents of the Casual Route IV-V 5.10, the most popular route on the Diamond of Longs Peak. Two of these Diamond incidents resulted in responses of park personnel beyond the trailhead because of the amount of time overdue. None of the missing/overdue persons was injured.

Similar factors were seen in the Diamond incidents, and also in many of the other missing/overdue incidents. Each of the teams had at least one person on the team who was minimally experienced for attempting a large alpine wall such as the Diamond. Some of the persons interviewed stated that most of their prior experience had been in the gymnasium. Some of the other persons, while properly experienced, were not properly acclimated for the severe climbing above 13,000 feet in elevation. Two of the teams had three and four persons, which complicated the logistics of efficient movement. At least two of the Diamond teams did not get a sufficiently early start to their climbing day


While none of the five overdue/missing Diamond party incidents were serious in nature, all had the potential for serious mishap. These incidents do offer us a reflection on what is necessary for success on a serious alpine big wall such as the Diamond. First, all of the climbers teamed up for a Diamond or similar big wall should have sufficient experience, including leading efficiently at free-climbing standards of 5.10 and above. All team members should have experience in climbing big walls at lesser elevations. All team members should have experience and acclimitization for undergoing serious exertion at high altitude. All team members should be proficient with direct aid techniques, self rescue, and first aid, in the event of being challenged with their own or someone else’s catastrophe. Second, smaller teams usually offer the better chance of success due to the simplicity of logistics when compared with large groups in confined spaces such as small belay stances or ledges. Finally, one must constantly consider safety as the most important factor on any climb, whether in reference to fast efficient movement, proper planning in designing a sufficient acclimation period and an early start, and even partner choice as to adequate experience and proficiency levels.

The parties illustrated in these incidents were fortunate that the weather did not change or that other catastrophic events did not occur. Longs Peak can be quite unforgiving, even to the best climbers. Even when a party is properly experienced, adequately equipped, and has planned carefully, the worst scenarios might still unfold. This is what the challenge of climbing is all about. It is most important to stack the odds in your favor by pitting your skills instead of mere luck against the mountain. (Source: Jim Detterline—Longs Peak Area Ranger, and Mark Magnuson—Wild Basin District Ranger, Rocky Mountain National Park)

(Editor’s Note: A correction from last year’s Colorado section on the spelling of Bastille Crack. It managed to get in one report as “Bestowal” Crack—due to an auto spell checker, then being missed by proof reader.

There were two fatalities that don’t appear in the Colorado narratives. One was a rappelling accident in Boulder Canyon and the other was a free fall on the Flatirons, both in February, and because both were solo, there are no details.)

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