Coroner: Climber died of head injury
Climber Kip White, 49, of Lakewood, died from a severe closed head injury and other traumas – injuries consistent with the 400-foot fall he suffered Monday on the Maroon Bells, the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office said Wednesday.White’s rope-mate that day, his 19-year-old son, Jordan, survived the disastrous fall. He was treated and released Tuesday from Aspen Valley Hospital. Both Whites were wearing helmets.”It was just too great of an impact from too great of a height,” said Dr. Steve Ayers, the Pitkin County coroner. The body was examined Tuesday night.And as officials involved with Tuesday’s body-recovery mission pieced together the sequence of events high on the Bells Monday, more details emerged.
“The father was at the top of the pitch,” Ayers said, “and the son was rappelling down – he was maybe 15 or 20 feet below – so he wasn’t as high as his dad. When they fell, the dad took a much greater drop.”The Whites had reached the saddle at the top of the Bell Cord Couloir, the low-point between the two Bells’ summits, at 13,800-feet. They then began climbing north along the technical and exposed ridge toward North Maroon Peak, 14,014 feet, according to Hugh Zuker, president of Mountain Rescue Aspen.It was some time after noon.”The best we know, they got climber’s right of the saddle and were going along the backside of the ridge when weather set in,” Zuker said. “Then they couldn’t find the route because they got clouded in.”
“[Jordan] said they decided to descend a little side chute, and the accident occurred in the side chute. But they ended up in the Bell Cord.”The side chute the Whites apparently opted to descend is rarely, if ever, visited by climbers. “At least not on purpose,” said one local mountaineer familiar with the terrain. From a small notch midway between the Bell Cord saddle and the North Maroon summit, the chute plunges down through striated cliff bands. Eventually, it pours into the Bell Cord about four-fifths of the way up to the saddle, according to Zuker.”It’s very, very narrow and steep – a little bit of snow, a little bit of cliff band, a little bit of snow, a little bit of cliff band. That’s the terrain they were on when the accident occurred,” Zuker said.The Whites landed in the Bell Cord Couloir, which serves as a runout of sorts for a vast network of finger-like chutes on the east face of the Bells. Jordan was knocked unconscious for a period. When he came to, he located his father about 30 to 40 feet downhill and determined he was dead.
Rescuers recovered the body at an elevation of 13,360 feet in the Bell Cord.Jordan climbed down off the peak late Monday and spent the night out in the shelter of trees. He reached the trailhead at Maroon Lake early Tuesday and drove to Aspen to report the accident.The timeline of events Monday, however, remains somewhat uncertain.”I never felt like I got a clear answer about that,” Zuker said. “The only person who knows that is the son, and I’m not sure he really knows exactly.”Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org