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Fall on Rock, Rock and Mud Slides, Colorado, Crestone Needle

FALL ON ROCK, ROCK and MUD SLIDES

Colorado, Crestone Needle

Duane (57) and Linda Buhrmester (56), both experienced climbers, walked in from the trailhead to Upper Colony Lake on July 26 in the mid afternoon. They camped there for the night with the intent on climbing the Ellingwood Arête (5.7+) on Crestone Needle (14,197 feet).

Investigators suggested that a severe storm washed the couple off the mountain, causing them to fall about 500 feet into a mudslide area. Rescuers found the couple buried in rocks and mud. We believe this is what happened because they weren’t roped together when found (Linda had a mountaineer’s coil over her shoulder and had both ends of the rope, suggesting they had used the rope earlier and had it at the ready should they need it again). If they were in that chute with that much scree, they knew that it would have been safest for them to not be tied together because of the potential for the rope to get caught on loose rock and cause rockfall.

Analysis

Family members speculate that the couple would have gotten up well before dawn, knowing that weather could be an issue. Family members found only one eaten dinner in the couple’s tent and several more days worth of food, suggesting they attempted the summit on July 27.

They likely saw the weather was changing for the worse at some point on the Ellingwood Arête route—unsure when, but it’s fairly certain they did not summit because they would have descended the standard route. But that’s not where they were found. They had also not eaten their packed lunch, which they would normally do on the summit. Upon seeing the weather changing, they would have tried to descend as safely and quickly as possible. It’s likely they rappelled or down-climbed to the gully/chute adjacent to the route where it probably looked as the safest and most direct route down to camp.

Both climbers were found wearing their boots and had their rock shoes in their packs, suggesting that they had not taken a fall on a technical pitch where they would have been wearing their rock shoes. Family members suspect they got pretty high up the arête in their rock shoes, bailed, and switched to boots, as they probably didn’t want to twist an ankle in their rock shoes on any loose scree, then encountered a rock slide. Based on where they were found and the likely weather issues, we think this is what happened. The bodies were found four days after the storm.

During and after rain, climbers should expect to encounter slippery rock and terrain in general and adjust their movement accordingly. In heavy rain, expect flash floods or debris slides in gullies or chimneys. In some cases climbers can be washed away or drowned if caught in a large gully during a rainstorm and be aware of falling rock that may have been loosened by running water. (Source: Michael Buhrmester, www.14er.com)