Colorado, Egger’s Cliff—Poudre Canyon—On the morning of June 30, two students (25 to 30 years of age) of the Colorado State University Hikers Club were climbing on a granite face above the Poudre River. One climber John F. Wetzel, suddenly fell and was killed, even though he had a dynamic belay.
Both climbers were properly equipped and had had rock climbing instruction through the Technical Climbing School offered by the Hikers Club. The climbers were roped when the fall took place. John led, and was up 60–70 feet above when suddenly he yelled, “Falling!” His belayer, James C. Cruse, could not see him until he fell past. James said that he had let out approximately 80 feet of rope when John fell. As John came down he brought with him a bit of loose rock, some of which hit the belayer.
James Cruse may be commended on stopping John with a dynamic belay after a fall of at least 140 feet and with no gloves. The climber was stopped before the 3/8 inch nylon rope was used up and before he hit the ground. In checking the belaying piton, it was found to be still in place without a sign of strain. The aluminum snap link showed only a small nick where it lay against the piton.
John was evacuated from the cliff about two hours after his fall by the sheriff’s patrol. He died about one hour after the fall.
Source: David R. W. Hoefer—president of the Colorado State University Hikers Club.
Analysis: (Hoefer). No one knows exactly what caused John to fall. I have taken the assumption that his hand or foot hold gave out since the rock at the point where he fell was slightly rotten. He was killed from internal injuries caused by a broken pelvis due to striking a ledge during the fall.
A few errors can be seen on the part of the climber. One is that he was climbing much too far above his piton. Two, that he had only a single loop bowline instead of a bowline on a coil of three or more loops. This may have been a cause of his internal injuries. The climb was rather difficult for two beginners, but only the two climbers know what they can climb and what their margin of safety is.