STRANDED, EXCEEDING ABILITIES, INEXPERIENCE, INADEQUATE CLOTHING/ EQUIPMENT
Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak, Keiner's Route
On September 2, a party of two men (ages 53 and 34) with no alpine rock or any snow/ice experience attempted Keiner’s Route on Longs Peak. (Keiner’s is a 2,000-foot, grade II, AI 2, 5.3-5.5 route.) This route starts with an 800-foot snow/ice couloir known as Lambs Slide then finishes with 1,200 feet of alpine rock, with climbing ranging from 4th class to 5.5. This party encountered more difficult and time consuming climbing than expected while attempting this route. After spending six and a half hours climbing the snow/ice couloir, they started up the rock section at about 3:00 p.m. They managed to climb about four pitches over the next four and a half hours, but could not find climbing that they thought was easier than 5.8. They reached a point that they could not continue from and ended rappelling back to an exposed ledge where they spent the night resting and running in place to stay warm. The next morning they called the NPS for help and stated that they were stranded. They could not find the way up and did not think that they could safely descend the snow/ice couloir. Park Rangers convinced them to reverse the route as far as they could while other Rangers climbed up to them. The Rangers assisted them off the route by climbing with them up Lamb’s Slide to the large saddle between Mount Meeker and Longs Peak. After descending the third-class Loft route with the Rangers, these two climbers spent a second night in the backcountry at Chasm Shelter with Rangers and walked out unharmed the next morning.
These two climbers had minimal climbing experience, and neither climber had any alpine rock or snow/ice climbing experience. One had just started climbing in a gym this winter and had only climbed outdoors twice before this trip. The other started climbing three years ago. Even though most of his experience also came from the gym, he has climbed some outdoors at places like Seneca, Red Rocks and the New River Gorge amongst others. He had done some multi-pitch traditional climbing before this trip.
They had not climbed grades harder than 5.5 in the gym and likely assumed that the 5.5 rating meant that this climb would be “easy” for them. They did not research or plan for a retreat route if something went wrong. Their escape plan involved programming the emergency number for Rocky Mountain National Park into a cell phone. Their lack of an honest personal assessment of their abilities put their own lives at risk as well as the lives of the Rangers who had to climb up to help them.
Even though they got themselves into this situation, they did make several good decisions once they realized that they could not complete the route. They did not blindly push forward on the route, but instead they began to retreat to a safer spot and elected to spend the night there. Once they contacted Rangers, they safely made their way to a meeting point. They accurately assessed their own inability to safely descend Lambs Slide.
Overall this party could have prevented their own rescue in several ways. Here are two of the most obvious: (1) They could have simply chosen another, less committing, route to start their alpine climbing career—one that matched their abilities more closely. A route like the North Face route on Longs Peak would have still allowed them to summit Longs Peak; however, it would have been within their ability. Some discussions with Rangers in the Longs Peak Ranger Station or more preplanning could have pointed them in this direction. (2) More research on the possible escape routes from Keiner’s would have allowed them more chances of affecting their own rescue. If they had known that they could have continued up Lambs Slide to the Loft and then walked down, then they likely would have used this option. (Source: Edited from a report by Rich Browne, Park Ranger Emergency Services Coordinator, Rocky Mountain National Park)