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FALL ON ROCK, INADEQUATE BELAY–ROPE RAN OUT, Colorado, Boulder Canyon, Animation

FALL ON SNOW, WEATHER, GEOLOGY

Colorado, Maroon Bells, Bell Cord Couloir

On May 30, Kip Ryan White (49), an experienced climber and indie singer- songwriter, died in a fall in the saddle between North and South Maroon Peaks outside Aspen. White and his son Jordan (19) fell 400 feet while descending the 50-degree, narrow, east-facing Bell Cord Couloir. The climbers were belaying one another, unanchored, when one of them lost purchase. Jordan, knocked unconscious, with his helmet split open on a rock, awoke moments after the accident to find his father 40 feet downhill and already dead.

Suffering from a mild head injury himself, Jordan down-climbed 600 feet of steep terrain before beginning a two-mile descent to Maroon Lake. He spent a cold, exposed night under a patch of trees before hiking out early Tuesday morning to drive his father’s truck to the Aspen Valley Hospital.

Analysis

The Bells have a grim history. “There used to be several fatalities a year,” Lou Dawson, a prolific climber and guru of Colorado fourteeners, told the Aspen Daily News. “A rope is problematic if the rock is loose because there’s no place to anchor it.” The notoriously loose Bells have claimed other local mountaineers, including Greg Mace, a prominent member of Aspen Mountain Rescue. The relative danger of the Bells, coupled with their easy access, have led the U.S. Forest Service and Mountain Rescue Aspen to call them the “Deadly Bells” as a warning.

Mountain Rescue Aspen believes that the weekend’s poor weather contributed to unfavorable snow conditions—a thin crust layer over several inches of mush—causing the father-and-son team great difficulty in self-arresting once their fall began. “You just keep sliding,” Dawson told the newspaper. “That’s what happened to Greg Mace, and he knew what he was doing.”

Kip White had summited numerous fourteeners since moving to Colorado in 1979. The father-and-son team had endeavored to be cautious on South Maroon Peak, and turned back at the 13,800-foot saddle because of deteriorating weather. (Source: Edited from a report by Courtney Belcher, news@bigstonepub.com)