Dangerous location means body will remain on Capitol Peak ‘for the time being’
The body of a 32-year-old Wisconsin man who fell to his death while climbing Capitol Peak in early August will remain on the mountain indefinitely, an official said this week.
Three members of Mountain Rescue Aspen were injured — one seriously — in a previous attempt to retrieve Kelly McDermott’s body, and officials have decided, after talking with his father, the danger of another attempt is too high, said Parker Lathrop, director of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
“(McDermott’s father) said his son had been chasing mountains for the last five years of his life and he couldn’t imagine another spot where he’d want to be,” Lathrop said. “This is where his life was focused. Right now his spot is at peace with who he was.”
Sheriff’s deputies and MRA volunteers began searching for McDermott — who was climbing alone — on Aug. 2 after he didn’t return from the 14,130-foot peak, considered one of Colorado’s most difficult and dangerous. Bad weather hampered search efforts the first two days, but an Army Blackhawk helicopter crew based in Gypsum spotted his body on the morning of Aug. 4 about 500 feet below a 100-foot-long, precarious ridge called the Knife Edge, which features sheer drops on either side.
McDermott’s body is located about two-thirds of the way across the Knife Edge heading up the mountain on the south or Geneva Lake side, in the middle of a 1,200-foot vertical drop from the top of the ridge, Lathrop said. At that point, there’s a small couloir that acts a catch-all for rocks that fall from the Knife Edge above. Inside the couloir is small shelf, and McDermott’s body is located in the middle of that shelf, Lathrop said.
The location means McDermott almost certainly fell from the Knife Edge, though it is unclear if it occurred on his way up the mountain or back down, he said.
The three of the four members of the MRA team who climbed up from Pierre Lakes on Aug. 4 to try and retrieve the body were injured by an “avalanche of rocks” that fell from above, likely triggered by recreational climbers, according to the sheriff’s office. The most seriously injured MRA member was flown to Denver, suffered multiple fractures and faces months of physical therapy.
The MRA president did not respond to an email Friday seeking more information about the member’s condition.
McDermott’s body cannot be seen from anywhere along the standard route up Capitol Peak, Lathrop said.
“It’s secluded,” he said. “It looks out over the Geneva Lake Basin. He’s in an area where people will not enter.”
If the opportunity comes along to retrieve the body in the future, it might happen, Lathrop said. Otherwise, McDermott will remain where he fell.
“He will stay there for the time being,” Lathrop said. “It might be a short time and it might be forever.”
Attempts Friday to reach McDermott’s father and another relative in Wisconsin were not successful.
McDermott was a respiratory therapist at a hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, grew up in Rio, Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, according to an Aug. 5 story in the Wisconsin State Journal. A relative told the newspaper that McDermott regularly headed west for adventure.
“He was a very adventurous type,” Cyril McDermott, his uncle, said. “He was always in motion; wasn’t one to sit around and watch late-night movies or that kind of thing.”
A friend who was camping with McDermott before he decided to climb Capitol solo told The Aspen Times in August that McDermott was an experienced mountaineer and that his decision to climb alone was “completely normal.”
Lathrop said leaving McDermott’s body on Capitol Peak wasn’t an easy decision.
“It’s tough,” he said. “This is, in recent memory, the only time the sheriff’s office and Mountain Rescue Aspen have left someone on a peak. It’s not something we want to do. But sometimes it’s the best thing to do. We’ve had rescuers injured already and we don’t want that to happen again.”
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