Fall on Snow, Unable to Self-Arrest, Climbing Alone, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Flattop Mountain

Publication Year: 2010.


Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Flattop Mountain

On May 11 between 1100 and 1200, a man (57) fell approximately 50-100 feet while climbing a 45-degree snow colouir on the northwest flank of Flattop Mountain and was unable to self-arrest. An island of rocks in the couloir stopped his fall. His impact with these rocks resulted in serious injuries, including a broken pevlis. He managed to down-climb 1000 feet to the base of the couloir that was still more than five miles away from the trailhead. By the time a pair of backcountry skiers found him on the following day, the injured climber had become hypothermic and disoriented. The skiers reported the accident to the NPS at 1200. An NPS team responded by 1530. They packaged the climber into a litter and evacuated him.


This climber had the odds stacked against him in several ways: as the snow warmed up it would have been more likely to “ball-up” on his crampons; inconsistent snow surfaces in the couloir during his climb would have made kicking good steps and finding good footing more difficult; recently exposed rocks would have been more likely to melt out and fall; and self arrest near the top of the couloir was not likely to work if he did fall. The climber stated that he could not remember what had caused his fall, but any of the previously mentioned things could have contributed to it.

The urge to continue with one’s plan frequently overshadows continuous reassessment of conditions and the ability to deal with them. On many occasions the conditions do not cooperate with climber’s planned objectives. A willingness to remain flexible and to change one’s plan as conditions change often results in safer more enjoyable outings.

This climber also elected to climb by himself. Solo climbing always magnifies the risks associated with climbing. In addition, he did not leave a plan with anyone nor did he have a reliable means of communicating with the outside world.

He owes his life to the two skiers who happened to find him and intiate his rescue. (Source: Edited from a report by Mark Pita, Search & Rescue Program Manager, Rocky Mountain National Park)