FALL ON ROCK - LOOSE ROCK, CLIMBING UNROPED, CLIMBING ALONE
Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak, The Diamond,
On August 27 at 8:00 a.m., two NPS Climbing Rangers on the third pitch of Yellow Wall on The Diamond heard rockfall and saw several large rocks and a person falling in the vicinity of Broadway Ledge (a large ledge at the base of the Diamond) near the top of the North Chimney (the 800 foot, 5.6 approach climb that leads to Broadway). Benjamin Hebb (26), an experienced climber, fell down the North Chimney onto the Mills Glacier sustaining fatal injuries. The Rangers rappelled 1600 feet down the Yellow Wall and down the Lower East face to the body. Meanwhile another Ranger on patrol in the area had also arrived at the scene. Hebb's body was flown off the glacier with a helicopter.
During the resulting investigation Rangers determined that this climber had been attempting to aid-solo the Dunn-Westbay (grade V, 5.8, A3) route on the Diamond. He had started early that morning and soloed up the North Chimney to the base of this route. He likely had just started climbing up the route when he pulled a loose rock off and fell to his death. His rope was still in his pack when he was found.
Even though no one will ever know the full story behind this tragic incident, it is likely that this climber’s fall resulted from loose rock. This experienced climber had the necessary equipment to complete his intended route. He chose not to rope up for the North Chimney and the easy terrain near the start of the climb. This is not an uncommon choice for climbers on The Diamond where every second wasted means a much greater chance for being caught in a storm. Making the choice to forego a partner for the entire climb and a rope for part of it heightens the consequences of a slip or fall. A climber choosing to climb in this fashion must be sure of every move and every hold. Alpine routes have an abundance of objective hazards and loose rock will always exist even on a wall as popular as The Diamond. (Source: Rich Browne, Emergency Services Coordinator, Rocky Mountain National Park and http://climbinglife.com)
(Editors’ Note: There were a few other incidents on Longs Peak this year, including a classic afternoon lightning strike, a solo climber, 28, who took 150-foot fall because he had no technical gear for the conditions, and a 57-year-old man who took a fatal 300-foot fall from The Ledges. No details on the latter.)