Tuesday, August 17, 2010


As I posted a few blogs ago there are a few of Colorado's 14er mountains that I doubted I could ever climb due to the sheer technical skill involved and the consequences in hiking them. This past Sunday on the news there was another story about a 20 year old hiker that died on the Maroon Bells. (read the full story here: http://www.cubuffs.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=600&ATCLID=204977528) It's an all too real reminder just how much these mountains should be feared and respected.

Of course, this man, Spencer Nelson by all accounts did everything right. He was hiking with 7 people including his father and on the traverse from South Maroon Peak which he had already summitted to the other he was hit in the head by a rock and, even though he was wearing a helmet was knocked 600 feet into the Bell Cord.

This picture above gives you an idea of the South Maroon Peak and where the bell cord sits

Here's a picture of the Bell Cord in winter conditions. The Bell Cord is climbed with snow in it traditionally and very early in the morning before the sun has a chance to hit it and make it slushy and impassible. I'm not sure of the slope but the degree of steepness here probably about 45. A fall down here as you can imagine, would be deadly especially in the summer when it's just an open field of rocks.

Nelson's goal was to hike all of Colorado's 14ers as well and he was in shape and a good mountaineer. Way more equipped and prepared than I am at this stage to hike anything like this. Yet it just goes to show how unforgiving this mountain can be and how the consequence in pursuing a dream ended in death. They don't call them the Deadly Bells for nothing.

They are beautiful though.

A look at the traverse you would face from one Maroon Peak to the other. Not for the faint of heart.

Nelson is the third hiker I've heard of who has died this summer on a Colorado 14er. The other was Kevin Hayne, an 18-year old who fell off Little Bear Peak (full story here: http://www.krdo.com/news/23915181/detail.html) He was hiking with a friend when they got stuck in the notorious Hourglass and found they could not pass it due to ice. While trying to decide what to do Hayne lost his hand hold and fell. He was alive when his climbing partner found him but died before rescue helicopters could reach him. As I've posted before, Little Bear is another "Everest" on my list of scary mountains that I don't know if I would ever climb. Pictures I'm sure don't even do it justice:

Looking up the hourglass

You can see where the Hourglass gets its name from in the photo above.

And on July 17, 29-year-old Jeffrey R. Rosinski of Rhode Island was found dead at around 3 am on Longs Peak (full story here: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_15536716) The 22-year-old that found him said the winds on the summit that evening were so strong that he had to crawl on his hands and knees. On the way down he found a backpack on the trail and then saw blood and when he looked over the ledge he saw Rosinski. I'm guessing Rosinski was blown off the mountain due to the high winds. Longs Peak is considered a difficult 14er but most people don't have a problem until after they reach this:
The keyhole

The Hike itself is 14 miles round trip making it one you have to start very early (like midnight we are talking here) just to be able to summit and make it down before any weather moves in. The problem with the trail after the keyhole is that it is the real exposure begins starting with the Narrows. As you can see from the photos below from the route map listed on 14ers.com there is no room for error and that even in the best conditions you are playing with fate here:

After the Narrows you must climb up the appropriately named "Homestretch" to reach the summit:

Little Bear and the Maroon Bells aren't even in the same category of difficulty as Longs Peak so you can imagine how much harder they are. The fact of the matter is that the rock is more stable on Longs making this climb up a bit easier for the experienced climber.

I truly believe when it's your time to go it's your time to go and that every day we are alive is a gift given to us. You could die driving to work, in a plane crash, your house could catch on fire or you could fall off the sidewalk into traffic. However, I believe in minimizing risk in being prepared for what life has to offer. If hiking 14ers is going to be my new hobby, and it is, you have to take the good the bad and the ugly with them. That means knowing that people die and hikers get hurt even on something as simple as Mount Bierstadt (a climber had to be rescued sunday after a boulder rolled over his leg giving him a compound fracture. This is the same mountain I climbed solo last week!). So while I may be scaring myself, and some of you out there reading this, I just want to maintain awareness. This winter I plan on doing some indoor rock climbing as well as getting rock climbing belay certified just so that when it comes time to hike these harder routes, I will be prepared. Of course, the mountain will always be waiting and ready for me...the question is, when am I ready for it?

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