Climbing 14ers without legs: Say what?
August 1, 2018
Climbing fourteeners is officially out of control.
I know this thanks to a news release about a week ago from the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office detailing yet another rescue from one of the treacherous high peaks in the area.
This one involved a 37-year-old man who'd fallen 15 to 20 feet while descending North Maroon Peak on July 24 and broke his wrist. The man had been climbing alone and was found by another hiker and his friend on the mountain who called authorities, according to the release.
Nothing too unusual so far, right? Just wait for it.
"The 37-year-old male has a medical condition requiring him to climb with specialized equipment using mainly his arms," the release stated. "With his broken wrist the male was unable to move himself."
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This struck me as incredible at the time and continues to stick in my brain as an act of hubris gone wrong.
North Maroon Peak — like many here in the Elks Range — is one of the most dangerous high peaks in the state. The rock is crumbly and unstable, the peaks are steep and the cost for one false move is severe.
Just days earlier, Alex Pancoe of Chicago — who was training to climb in the Himalayas as part of an attempt to summit the highest peak on every continent — told The Aspen Times about his rescue from Snowmass Mountain. The experienced climber was holding onto a piece of rock just below the summit when it broke away, causing him to fall a few feet on to a jagged rock.
The rock opened his leg like a deli slicer. I've seen the pictures. It was nasty, trust me.
Pancoe had been scheduled to climb both North and South Maroon Peaks, but his friend canceled and Pancoe said he didn't feel comfortable doing the class four scramble solo. Instead, he chose the tamer Snowmass Mountain, and he too had to be plucked from near the summit by a Blackhawk. Fortunately, he was able to crawl away from the site of his injury and pick up a cellphone signal and a rescue.
Pancoe had and still has the full use of his legs. The man on July 24 did not.
Now that doesn't mean he shouldn't have the opportunity to climb a fourteener provided he has the athletic ability and endurance. It might mean he should choose an easier fourteener like Mount Elbert or one of the collegiate peaks, though I'm not sure it even has to mean that.
What it means to me as an experienced mountaineer is that he should never have gone alone. Hauling yourself up North Maroon Peak with only your arms significantly increases your chances of having to be rescued. A climbing partner could have helped him down or through difficult areas, or could have gone for help in the event he was injured or incapacitated.
The partner might even have talked him out of it before they started.
Public safety officials bemoan the instant internet availability of routes and photos and hubris that makes people think climbing a mountain peak is akin to riding a roller coaster. Anyone who climbs fourteenres in this day and age inevitably runs into unprepared climbers and those who have no business on technical peaks.
But with fourteener culture booming, the trend is clearly only going to get crazier and more out of control.