Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fatalities on Longs Peak

The summer 2011 edition of Trail & Timberline, a quarterly publication from the Colorado Mountain Club, includes an interesting article on fatalities while climbing Longs Peak throughout the history of Rocky Mountain National Park. Included with the article was a map charting the location of each fatality, as well as a list of those who have died over the years.

Between 1915, when Rocky Mountain became a national park, and 2010, a total of 344 park visitors have died as a result of accidents, car crashes, heart attacks and various other reasons. Included in those statistics are 60 fatalities associated with climbing Longs Peak. Since the article included some basic information on each of those deaths, I wanted to dig a little deeper into some of the statistics.

* Among the 60 fatalities on Longs Peak between 1915 and 2010, only 4 were women. This likely has a lot to do with the ratio of men versus women climbing the mountain during that time period, but could also suggest that women take less risks or are more careful. Unfortunately there's not enough data to make any solid conclusions regarding this.

* The average age for those that have died on the mountain is 32.5. The oldest person to die was 75 when he slipped on ice along the Narrows section of the Keyhole Route. There were also two 16-year-olds that have died on the peak, one in 1932, and the other in 1980. A total of 9 victims were teenagers, which represents 15% of all deaths.

* Although 57% of the victims were below the age of 30, the average age for climbing deaths since 1999 has jumped to almost 45.

* During the first decade of the 21st Century, 8 fatalities have been recorded. However, the deadliest decade was the 1970s when the mountain claimed the lives of 13 people.

* Two-thirds of all deaths were the result of a fall - roped and unroped.

* The technical East Face route has witnessed the most fatalities during the lifespan of the park: 14. However, the Keyhole Route reported 13 deaths during that same time period. Additionally, three other people have died at or near the Keyhole, while another died of hypothermia at the Boulder Field.

* The Homestretch on the Keyhole Route has seen the most deaths of any one location on the mountain: 7.

* 20 people have died on the mountain for reasons other than falls, including 6 that had heart attacks, 4 hypothermia, 3 by lightning, and 3 by exhaustion and exposure. Two people have died as a result of suicide, including one person who ingested anti-freeze at the Narrows in 1979. It's not clear as to whether she was trying to kill herself, or trying to stave off the cold.

* Perhaps the most famous person to perish on the mountain was Agnes Vaille. On January 25, 1925, Ms. Vaille became the first woman to climb Longs Peak in the winter. While making her descent along the Keyhole Route, Vaille slipped and fell about 150 feet. Spent with fatigue, Vaille insisted she needed a short nap, but froze to death before her hiking partner could bring help back. Today, just below the Keyhole, is the Agnes Vaille Shelter. Built as a memorial to Ms. Vaille, the shelter also serves as a refuge for hikers and climbers in need.

* One other notable death occurred in 1889 - prior to the park's establishment. Frank Stryker was descending down the Homestretch on the Keyhole Route (according to Death, Daring & Disaster he was still ascending) when a loaded pistol fell out of his pocket and discharged into his neck. You could say there was a bit of karma involved. The 28-year-old was taking pleasure in launching large boulders down the mountain while climbing the mountain. The newspaper account at the time said "he announced his intentions of sending off a particularly huge stone" just before the accident occurred. The man continued to cling to life for ten more hours while his companions attempted to transport him down the mountain on a makeshift litter.

If considering a hike to the Keyhole or Chasm Lake, or a climb to the summit of Longs Peak, it's always a good idea to know your limits and to respect the mountain.

For more information on hiking to Chasm Lake, please click here.

For more information on hiking to the Keyhole, please click here.






Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

6 comments:

Steven said...

I'm interested in taking a group of older boy scouts up the keyhole route. How many teenagers have died on the keyhole route?

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Steven - according to the info I gathered from the article, a total of 9 victims were teenagers, which represents 15% of all deaths.

You really need to do your research on going all the way to the top. Beyond the Keyhole the route becomes a climb - not a hike. I think going to the Keyhole is very doable for teenagers, but going beyond that point they need to have some mountaineering skills.

Anonymous said...

I have climbed Long's Peak and would not personally take the responsibility of taking a group of young people to the summit. Give them some experience on some easier walk ups like Elbert, Massive, Gray's and Torrey's and then take the most responsible ones up Long's.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Totally agree - great advice!

Anonymous said...

We climbed Longs Peak last fall. None of our group made it to the peak, I managed the boulder field and my fellow climbers made it slightly farther. It was a very damp, foggy day so we got as far as we could (I was having a lot of altitude problems and chose not to continue past the boulder field) I think a group of young people could manage the boulder field - it is the hardest hike I have ever done so far but I am proud to have made it as far as I did. It was stunning and an unforgettable experience.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Anon - I agree, the Keyhole is the hardest hike I've ever done as well. The key to successful hiking/mountaineering is knowing your limits (i.e., knowing when to turn around).