Climber killed after falling on S’mass Mountain
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A 51-year-old Littleton man was killed Saturday after falling about 150 feet near Snowmass Lake.
Inclement weather postponed the recovery of the body of Steve Castellano until early today.
Castellano and hiking partner Bill Sudmeier of Denver had summitted Snowmass Mountain around 1:30 p.m. Saturday when they came across a 35-degree scree field a quarter mile west of the lake. Castellano entered the scree field first, using large rocks to stabilize himself as he walked.
One rock didn’t support Castellano’s weight, Sudmeier said. It gave way just as Castellano leaned on it, sending the hiker and a large rock slide tumbling down the mountain.
“Steve put his hand on a rock, and a lot of rock came loose with that. He tumbled about 150 feet,” Sudmeier said yesterday from Denver.
Sudmeier rushed to Castellano’s side after the accident, where he alternated “between trying to make him comfortable and stabilizing a horrible gash over his head, and turning around and yelling at the top of my lungs, ‘911!’ and ‘Helicopter!'”
Help was nowhere in sight, Sudmeier said.
“He was originally conscious, but he died about half an hour later,” he said.
Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputies first received an emergency call around 3:30 p.m. from hikers who heard the sounds of the rock slide followed by screams for help. Mountain Rescue-Aspen teams and a helicopter were dispatched.
Mountain Rescue members slogged through the rain toward Snowmass Lake, where they met Sudmeier. He led the team to Castellano’s body.
Bad weather prevented the helicopter from reaching the victim on Saturday. A ground recovery was postponed Sunday, again because of weather. A recovery team was to meet this morning to form an operational plan, Deputy Mario Strobl said.
“There will be a briefing at 6 a.m., and we’ll see what the weather’s like,” he said.
A press release from the sheriff’s office said Castellano’s fall “caused a rock slide. Unstable boulders are now all around the body’s location and are extremely hazardous.” A helicopter will be used to do a “long line” evacuation.
Sudmeier returned to Denver early Sunday and was awaiting word of Mountain Rescue’s recovery efforts. Sudmeier and Castellano had spent three days climbing and hiking in Snowmass.
“We tried to climb Snowmass late last September, but you guys had some early season snow,” Sudmeier recalled. “We set our sights on it last year and decided to give ourselves a three-day weekend in the summertime to climb.”
The pair set out from the Snowmass Creek trailhead on Friday afternoon, camping at Snowmass Lake Saturday night. Their summit of Snowmass Mountain was yet another big accomplishment for Castellano, a physician’s assistant who enjoyed climbing in his free time, Sudmeier said.
“Steve is an accomplished climber – he’s climbed more than half of Colorado’s Fourteeners, including some of the more difficult ones. He’s done the [Maroon] Bells,” he said.
Saturday’s accident will not keep Sudmeier from climbing, he said. However, he hopes Castellano’s death will serve as a caution to other climbers and hikers in dangerous situations.
“It makes people kind of pause. It certainly makes you take notice.”
Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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