Rocky Mountain National Park Climber Killed, Two Injured in Avalanche at 11,000 Feet

by TK Sanders

A rock fall and avalanche at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado killed one climber and injured two others over the weekend. A Colorado National Guard helicopter team rescued the woman, who suffered light injuries, and a man, who suffered more serious injuries, using a hoist on Sunday.

Rescuers lifted the pair out of a narrow mountain side gully, called the Dreamweaver Couloir, on Mount Meeker. Rescuers also attempted to locate the body of a third climber in the group during the mission, but were unsuccessful at first. They eventually found his body later in the afternoon amidst avalanche debris, park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said.

Rescuers used a RECCO device to find the victim, the Daily Mail reports. A RECCO device uses a harmonic radar system composed of a detector and a passive reflector. The reflector is integrated into clothing and gear of hikers in extreme conditions.

Officials have not released the names of any victims. They did say that rescue efforts faced limitations due to severe wintery weather at the time, though.

“Due to the location and severity of injuries of one of the males, Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue team members requested assistance from a Colorado National Guard helicopter. One from Buckley Air Force Base came to extricate him via a hoist operation. It used using a winch-operated cable,” Patterson said in a statement.

The climber killed marks the seventh fatality in a Colorado avalanche this year alone

“This occurred at approximately 2 p.m. when there was a brief weather window. Rocky Mountain Rescue assisted with the helicopter hoist operations. The man was flown to Upper Beaver Meadows. He was transferred to Northern Colorado Med Evac air ambulance and then flown to Medical Center of the Rockies,” Patterson continued.

Mountaineering company Colorado Mountain School describes the Dreamweaver Couloir as “one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s classic snow couloirs that offers steep snow climbing with the potential of mixed ice and rock terrain.”

Colorado’s notoriously fickle spring weather means serious climbers still face legitimate avalanche risks even this close to summer.

“We’ve seen a lot of fresh snow in May this year. And that means we’re kind of moving back and forth between spring and winter avalanche conditions. … The most dangerous conditions are probably going to be upper elevation. There we still have some old, hard snow; and then, we’re getting this new snow on top of it. We have seen some accidents with cornice fall over the last few weeks. Those are overhanging snow formations in really wind-exposed high elevation areas,” Colorado Avalanche Information Center Director Ethan Greene told CBS Denver.

Park officials closed Trail Ridge Road, a 48-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 34 that stretches through Rocky Mountain National Park, due to harsh road and weather conditions.