Fall on Rock, Colorado, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Stoned Oven

Publication Year: 2009.


Colorado, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Stoned Oven

On Monday, October 20, Irishman Michael Walsh (30) and his two partners were attempting the Stoned Oven Route (5.11d), a 13 pitch, Grade Vrock climb located on the North Chasm View Wall. Around 11:00 a.m., Walsh was approximately 600 feet above the ground when he fell 30 to 40 feet while leading the fourth pitch of the route. He fell hard enough to shatter his helmet. He was disoriented and appeared to be suffering from a life- threatening head injury.

Walsh’s partners lowered him to the floor of the canyon, and one of them ascended the 1,700-foot Cruise Gully route by scrambling and using an ascender on fixed ropes. After seeking help from the others, he gathered equipment, including sleeping bags, warm clothing and head lamps, and returned down the Cruise Gully to assist Walsh and the other partner.

At 1:30 PM a park visitor came to the North Rim Ranger Station to report the accident. The individual reporting the accident was not a member of Walsh’s party, but she had been at the North Rim Campground when a member from Walsh’s party appeared seeking assistance.

A hasty team responded immediately, descending the technically demanding Cruise Gully. Although their response time was slowed slightly by rain, the team reached Walsh just after 5:00 p.m. Due to the nature of Walsh’s injuries, the park SAR team, assisted by members of Western State SAR, began a rescue operation despite the approaching darkness. A park SAR team member was lowered from the rim to the canyon floor in the area of the Hallucinogen Wall route (5.10, A3+). A litter carry was made from the base of the Stoned Oven route to the haul lines, and Walsh and a rescuer were then hauled 1,500 vertical feet to the canyon rim, arriving there around 11:00 p.m. Walsh was then flown to a hospital via air ambulance. The entire rescue operation took less than nine hours from the time of first notification to its conclusion.


A good example of the ability of a climbing party to initiate a self-rescue and the effectiveness of a well-trained SAR team. (Source: Steve Winslow, District Ranger in the NPS Morning Report for October 28, and www. firerescuemagazine. com)