Fall on Snow — Unable to Self-Arrest, Climbing Unroped
Alaska, Mt. McKinley, Denali Pass
On the morning of May 16 at 0545, the Angolo Dell’ Avventura Expedition team of Luciano Colombo (67), Mauro Colombo, and Paolo Civera left the 17,200-foot camp for a summit attempt. While gearing up to leave, they decided they would not rope up for ascending the Autobahn, but brought their rope in case they felt like they needed it up higher. It took them approximately two and a half hours to climb to Denali Pass, where they took a break for food and water. At this time, the team had a discussion about the weather, which was beginning to get cloudy above Denali Pass. They decided to keep moving up. At Zebra Rocks, approximately 200 meters above Denali Pass, the team decided to return to the 17,200-foot camp due to clouds and poor visibility. At Denali Pass they regrouped and discussed using their rope for descending to the camp. Paolo Civera and Mauro Colombo tied into the rope for the descent of the Autobahn, but Luciano Colombo felt that the terrain was moderate enough to not tie into the rope. They left Denali Pass together with Civera and Mauro Colombo on the rope ahead of Luciano Colombo (unroped), not separated by more than 30 meters. At approximately 18,000 feet, 50 meters down from Denali Pass on the Autobahn, Civero heard Luciano yelling, “Paolo, Paolo!” Mauro and Paolo turned and saw Luciano in a sliding fall out of control. Civera and Mauro Colombo could only watch as he continued to fall out of sight down towards the Peter’s Glacier. He came to a stop at approximately 16,500 feet. The distance of the fall was about 1,400 feet.
Ranger Matt Hendrickson witnessed Luciano Colombo falling the last half of the slope at 0956. Hendrickson called the incident into 14,200-foot camp and advised Ranger Kevin Wright that he would respond to the scene with three VIPs on his patrol and to advise Talkeetna Ranger Station.
Hendrickson arrived on scene at 1110 with VIP Paramedic Richard Alexander. Alexander determined that Luciano Colombo had sustained head injuries during the fall that were incompatible with life and found no vital signs. After packaging Luciano Colombo’s body, Hendrickson and three VIPs began moving the body back to the 17,200-foot camp, arriving at 1425. On May 18, Luciano Colombo’s body was flown to Talkeetna.
Team Angolo Dell’ Avventura had spent nine days on Denali, ascending to 17,200-foot camp before their summit attempt on May 16. The team was feeling good, had no notable issues with the altitude, and felt rested the morning of their summit attempt. Time spent reaching Denali Pass was on average and the team made a sound decision to come down due to poor visibility and deteriorating weather conditions. The one major contributing factor in this incident was Luciano Colombo’s decision to not tie into the rope with his partners for descending the Autobahn. In this case, an experienced, 67-year-old mountaineer, not taking the consequences of a fall into consideration and not taking simple safety measures of using a rope, was the ultimate cause of his death. (Source: Matt Hendrickson, NPS Mountaineering Ranger)