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Fall on Ice, Ice Pillar Fractured

On January 12, MM (34) and KS partnered up to climb a 35-meter pillar of ice known as The Fang (WI5). MM instructed KS on their approach where to stand for a safe belay. MM started his lead by climbing on the opposite side of the cauliflower to the base of the pillar where he set a screw and moved to the west side of the pillar. Setting another screw, MM moved back around and back cleaned his first placement. He regained the start of his line, and continued confidently up the pillar, making a few light-hearted comments about his protection and obviously having fan. MM placed approximately six screws in the pillar. He was above his last screw by about five meters and approximately 30 meters from the ground, and after placing his feet and setting his right tool, the next swing with the left, the pillar seemingly imploded below him.

The climber’s hands, as reported by a close witness, were above the fracture line and the ice seemed to fall a fraction of a second before the climber. Clouded by a plume of ice dust the rest of the fall was not witnessed. He came to rest on the viewer’s right, about three meters from the formation. KS reached MM within seconds and began his rapid assessment. Multiple climbers in the area began a rapid and efficient evacuation. MM was loaded into a ski area litter and lowered two 60-meter pitches of low angle snow and ice, where paramedics were met and informed of the patient’s issues. It took two hours or less in total and MM arrived at Vail Valley Medical Center.

Analysis

A number of positive influences and emotions set up for a bad decision to climb The Fang on this day. A few other local friends who are experienced climbers in the area showed nothing but positive views and support for MM’s interest of climbing the formation that day Very few negative concerns were expressed. MM had been in the area consistently since early December on essentially a full time basis. While the formation grew, he had closely been studying the conditions of the pillar. The pillar had seen two previous ascents. One ascent that MM was aware of was made by a local friend of the area. The climber had previously talked to MM about his ascent. Conditions seemed good for MM that day. He was mentally and physically prepared for the climb. The technical climbing wouldn’t be the issue. Knowledge, experience and acceptable risk all played a major role in this incident. (Source: Marc Boilard, member of party and rescuer)