Father reflects on tragedy
September 1, 2010
On Aug. 14 our 20-year-old son Spencer Nelson died while attempting to climb the Maroon Bells. He was climbing with his father and a group of his ski racing friends. Spencer was a member of the University of Colorado Ski Team and had competed in Aspen with his many friends from the Aspen Valley Ski Club throughout his racing career.
Spencer lived every second of his life at full throttle. This summer while working and training at Mount Hood, he fell in love with technical rock climbing. He was so excited to climb the traverse between South and North Maroon Peaks. It was his ambition to climb all of the 14ers. South Maroon was his 18th 14er peak.
We had summited South Maroon Peak at 9 a.m., right on schedule. After a brief rest on the summit, we headed down the north flank of South Maroon Peak. Spencer was leading the climb, so excited to lead us up the south face of North Maroon Peak. One of the climbers in our party unfortunately dislodged a rock above Spencer. The rock hit him in square in the head, knocking him unconscious. He fell over backwards and off an 80-foot cliff. He was gone in an instant.
We would like to thank all of those who risked their lives in the search and subsequent recovery operations. I would like to thank Alex Burchetta, Michael Buglione and Dustin Grey with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office for their help in coordinating the operations and keeping us informed.
We would also like to thank all the members of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, Mountain Rescue Aspen, Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, U.S. Forest Service, Flight for Life and the National Guard who we did not meet, but played an integral part in recovering our son.
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In particular, we would like to thank Adam Dyer, a member of Mountain Rescue-Aspen, who saw the accident from North Maroon Peak and rappelled down the Bell Cord Couloir in an attempt to help rescue our son. Adam and our friend, Mike Cronin, a member of our climbing party, risked their lives to try and help Spencer. They spent seven hours waiting for Search and Rescue to up climb and help them bring our son’s body down the mountain. We can’t thank them enough.
After the accident, I was able to lead four of my son’s friends back up to South Maroon Peak. We were all in shock after witnessing this tragic accident. We would like to thank two individuals who were on the summit at that time and helped guide us down South Maroon Peak to safety. John Sowell of Gunnison and Zach Taylor of Avon were heroes in helping us during this difficult time.
Losing our wonderful son has been extremely hard. We are so grateful to all of these wonderful people who went out of their way and risked their lives to help us.
Peter Nelson and Peggy Smith