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Fall on Snow, Colorado, Capitol Peak, Northwest Ridge

FALL ON SNOW

Colorado, Capitol Peak, Northwest Ridge

On Friday July 10, James Flowers (47), an experienced climber from Colorado Springs, and his partner set out to climb the Northwest Ridge of Capitol Peak (14,130 feet), one of the most challenging fourteeners in Colorado. They successfully reached the summit and were descending along the Northwest Ridge when Flowers lost his footing on a snow/ice patch between K2 and Daly Saddle. He fell and slid at high speed through snow chutes and rock bands until he came to rest at an elevation of 12,500 feet in a rocky area.

Flowers initially survived the fall. His climbing partner called his own wife at 2:45 p.m. Friday and she contacted authorities in Aspen. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office mobilized Mountain Rescue Aspen and a Flight for Life helicopter, the first of which had mechanical problems and was unable to depart from Frisco. Authorities were able to maintain periodic cellphone contact with the climbing partner.

A Denver-based helicopter was sent and due to the altitude, did an initial fly-over before offloading some weight and dropping off a paramedic. The chopper then picked up Mountain Rescue Aspen strike-team members one at a time and dropped them off on a knoll about a mile and a half from Flowers. A Mountain Rescue Aspen paramedic didn’t reach Flowers until 6:25 p.m. When the paramedic arrived, Flowers didn’t have a pulse and was not breathing. The paramedic performed CPR, which was unsuccessful.

Flowers reportedly had significant injuries to his head, legs and back. He was pronounced dead at the scene. His friend was flown out Friday evening. The three-person team spent the night near the body. A helicopter removed Flowers’ body from the mountain Saturday morning. (Source: From an article by Troy Hooper, Aspen Daily News, July 12, 2009)

Analysis

The same reporter said, “Most climbing accidents occur during descent.” In actuality, most accidents occur ascending in the U.S. (See Table III.) The exact cause of this fall is not known, but we do know that over the years, Capital Peak has seen many similar scenarios. (Source: Jed Williamson)