Climber dies after fall on Maroon Bells
A Lakewood man was killed in 400-foot couloir fall on the Maroon Bells Monday afternoon. Tuesday at first light, his dinged-up climber partner – his 19-year-old son – walked out of the backcountry to report the accident.The victim, Kip Ryan White, 49, and his son, Jordan Cole White, were roped together descending a steep, narrow east-facing chute between North and South Maroon Peaks known as the Bell Cord Couloir (aka Grand Couloir). It was some time after noon.”Father was belaying son, and one of them fell,” said Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Director Ann Stephenson.Both Whites were sucked down the couloir, a pitch of 45 to 50 degrees, on average. The two were experienced climbers, according to authorities. The duo had apparently reached the 13,800-foot saddle that marks the top of the Bell Cord and separates the Bells’ two distinct 14,000-foot-plus summits. But the weather was deteriorating and they opted to turn around before making the summit of South Maroon, their likely objective.Based on reports from Jordan White and Mountain Rescue Aspen members who retrieved Kit White’s body later Tuesday, the Whites fell from a point about one-and-a-half rope pitches, or about 225 feet, below the saddle, at about 13,800 feet.Jordan was knocked unconscious for some period of time; authorities said his helmet was cracked open. When he regained consciousness, he located his father about 30 to 40 feet downhill, at about 13,360 feet. He determined his dad was dead.Jordan had to down-climb another 600 feet of “no-fall” terrain on his descent to Crater Lake, at about 10,000 feet, then go another two miles to Maroon Lake. But darkness fell somewhere in between and he spent the night under some trees, according to authorities.The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office got the call at 6 a.m. Tuesday, after Jordan had apparently driven his dad’s truck down Maroon Creek Road to Aspen Valley Hospital, Stephenson said.But first Jordan called Luann White, his mom, in Lakewood, Stephenson said.According to authorities, Jordan suffered a broken bone in his leg during the fall, but he was otherwise OK. Jordan was released from AVH early Tuesday afternoon.At least two other parties of mountaineers set out to climb the Bells early Monday. But the two other groups – one headed up the North Face of North Maroon, the other attempting South Maroon by an east-facing couloir similar in aspect to the Bell Cord – turned back after encountering unsavory conditions and weather.As word of the accident spread Tuesday, several local mountaineers noted it was late in the day for the Whites to be on an east face like the Bell Cord.”If you’re snow-climbing any of these east faces, you want to plan being on the summit when the sun hits. You want that nice firm snow because that’s what gives you control for your axes and crampons,” said Lou Dawson, mountaineer and author of Dawson’s Guidebook to the Colorado Fourteeners.”The footing this time of year can be excellent, but if it softens, you’ll get a layer of mucky snow. And it gets stuck on your crampons and you can’t get purchase. Then, if you fall, while it’s fairly soft on the surface, once you get going and you try to self-arrest there’s only mush to bite into.”Members of Mountain Rescue Aspen reached White at about 2 p.m. and started the painstaking process of lowering his body down the steep, narrow chute. Other team members were placed at strategic places further down the slope to help with the grim chore.At one point a member ran down a long snow field to retrieve a body bag, then hoofed back up at least a thousand vertical feet.After they negotiated the steep section of the chute, the rescue members had to skirt a small cliff face with the body before reaching a more gentle snow field that took them to the West Maroon Creek Valley floor.Four horsemen from T-Lazy-7 Ranch came up the trail from the Maroon Lake parking lot and intercepted the retrieval party south of Crater Lake. They took White’s body down to Maroon Lake, where a Mountain Rescue vehicle transported it to Aspen Valley Hospital for an autopsy.
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