Friend of injured Aspen climber creates fund to help with hospital bills | AspenTimes.com

Friend of injured Aspen climber creates fund to help with hospital bills

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

A friend of the Aspen man who was injured from a fall at K2 Peak near Capitol Peak at 2 p.m. Sunday is raising money to help with medical expenses.

Justin Vassar, 28, was resting at Aspen Valley Hospital on Monday following treatment, according to one of his three climbing partners on Sunday, Ted Ehrlich, of Denver. Vassar, whose left arm was broken near the wrist, also suffered many cuts, bruises and abrasions, Ehrlich said. He required stitches on his head and hand.

Vassar has no medical insurance, Ehrlich said. As of 8 p.m. Monday, $735 had been raised on the website YouCaring.com. The fundraising goal is $10,000, but Ehrlich added that he doesn't know how much money will be needed to cover the final hospital bill.

Ehrlich contacted The Aspen Times on Monday to provide details of the accident. He said Vassar, a native of upstate New York who has lived in Aspen for six years, was among a group of four that was descending from K2. On Sunday evening, a Pitkin County Sheriff's Office deputy told reporters it was his understanding that Vassar had been traversing K2 by himself.

Ehrlich said a chunk of rock that slid above the gully on the northwest side of K2 caused the accident.

"Justin was the climber who was traversing the peak when the rocks slid," Ehrlich wrote in a summary on the YouCaring.com site. "From my understanding, he caught his fall but the rock he caught himself on then crumbled, causing him to fall approximately 300 feet before coming to a stop. He suffered a broken left arm and severe lacerations to his face, right hand and arm, and his legs."

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Ehrlich said he made his way over to the spot where Vassar ended up and used his first-aid skills to stop the bleeding. He created a splint with trekking poles for his climbing partner's broken arm, he said.

Vassar lost a lot of blood while they waited for help, Ehrlich said. Mountain Rescue Aspen team members arrived on the scene at about 4:20 p.m., having been transported by a Black Hawk helicopter from the U.S. Army National Guard's High Altitude Aviation Training Site in Gypsum.

With help, Vassar was able to walk about a quarter of a mile to the helicopter's pickup location, Ehrlich said. The Black Hawk took him directly to Aspen Valley Hospital in lieu of the usual practice involving a transfer to a Flight for Life helicopter or a waiting ambulance at lower altitudes, Ehrlich said.

Capitol Peak is said to be one of Colorado's most difficult fourteeners to climb. K2 Peak next to it is not as high, rising to 13,664 feet above sea level. Both peaks are located about 15 miles southwest of Aspen.

Vassar didn't make any mistakes that resulted in the accident, Ehrlich said. The weather was good for climbing.

"Justin is an experienced climber and skier, and this was his third trip on Capitol Peak," Ehrlich said. "He was on the standard route, and the fall wasn't due to poor route-finding or climbing ability; it was just being in the wrong spot at the wrong time. One of his other climbing partners had just climbed through the same section and was approximately 10 feet away when the rock crumbled away from the ridge."

Vassar is a big part of the community, Ehrlich said. He works with children through the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, teaching skiing during the winter and helping with summer camps.

The link to "Justin's Medical Fund," set up by Ehrlich, is: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/justin-s-medical-fund/234262

andre@aspentimes.com