American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Ledge Breaks Beneath Climber's Feet, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2012

FALL ON ROCK, LEDGE BREAKS BENEATH CLIMBER’S FEET Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak

On Sunday August 28, Keith Brett (29) fell from the North Chimney while simul-climbing with his partner Matt. Their intention was to climb Pervertical Sanctuary (5.10d–5.1 la). Here is how Keith described his incident:

Before light (probably around 5:15 a.m.), we were approximately 100 feet from Broadway Ledge. I was above and there were three to four pieces of gear between my partner and me. I was off route for a moment, then down climbed, got back on route and started moving up again. While standing on what I thought to be a stable ledge (six to eight inches wide) for a few seconds, it suddenly released. I was about 30 feet above my last piece of gear. I took about a 25-foot free-fall before hitting a ledge and tumbled for the remainder of the fall until the rope eventually caught me. No gear pulled. The fall was 60–70 feet total. I didn’t lose consciousness. I was wearing a helmet.

My partner was able to eventually climb up to the ledge to assist me. A group of friends who were lower in the North Chimney joined us and helped lower me out of the chimneys and get me back to our bivy cave at the top of Mill’s Glacier where we waited for assistance. Rangers met our group and provided medical care. I was flown off Mills Glacier via medical helicopter and taken to Denver.

Injuries I sustained were: a left wrist fracture in two places, two broken ribs, a punctured left lung, and some cuts and deep bruises with a few requiring stitches. The lung and breathing were the major issues. Thanks to everyone who helped me out during this incident including the RMNP rangers (top notch), friends and everyone else who was around. This really shows how strong and what amazing people make up the climbing community. Hope to be back at it soon! (Source: Keith Brett)

Analysis

Even though the North Chimney is rated 5.6, loose, wet rock, difficult route finding and lack of protection can potentially make this approach route to the Diamond the crux of the day. Objective hazards such as rockfall, long run-outs, and difficult route finding should be anticipated on a route such as this. The climbing party did an excellent job of self- rescuing down to Mills Glacier. If the SAR team needed to climb and then perform a technical lower, the rescue would have likely extended late into the night, requiring the patient to overnight on Mills Glacier. (Source: RMNP Search and Rescue)

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