Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2005-03-24
Submitted By: CAIC: Atkins
Place: Quandary Peak, Tenmile Range
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 2 climbers caught, 1 buried, and killed


Quandary Peak, Tenmile Range

March 24, 2005

2 climbers caught, 1 buried, and killed

At about 1220 Thursday afternoon two climbers were caught in an avalanche on the south side of Quandary Peak. One man survived with only minor injuries while his friend was buried and killed. At 14,265 feet Quandary Peak is a popular "14er" for winter climbers and skiers. Located at the south end of the Tenmile Range the summit is about 6.5 miles SSW of Breckenridge.

The two climbers -- both male -- were friends via a church group. One man -- the survivor -- was from Omaha (NE) and the other from Colorado Springs. They left at about 0830 and arrived at the Blue Lakes Dam at about 1000 hours. They pair left their snow shoes at the dam, strapped on crampons and started up the Monte Cristo Couloir which hits the summit from the south.

The pair were climbing at very different speeds. The Omaha man was climbing much faster. He remembers looking back at about 13200 feet; where the slope is a bit less steep and saw his partner below him and about 30-40 minutes behind. He waved to him motioning that he was going to continue. At about 13800? he heard and felt a big ?whumph.? The slope fractured about 30 feet above him. He instantly turned around but could not see his friend below. In the next second or two he was swept from his feet and tumbled down the entire length of the couloir. He ended up at the very toe of the debris but on the surface.

He got to his feet and not seeing or hearing his friend he set out to get help. He did not have to travel far as he was soon able to notify rescuers -- 911 -- via his cell phone from just near the dam. At about 1240 Thursday afternoon the Summit County Sheriff's Office received the call of the avalanche accident. Neither man carried avalanche rescue gear.

Rescuers from the Summit County Rescue Group, Summit County Sheriff's Office, Flight for Life helicopter, Breckenridge Ski Patrol, Copper Mountain Ski Patrol, Keystone Ski Patrol, Alpine Rescue Team, and Red, White, and Blue Fire Department responded.

The buried man was found dead at 1630 hours by an avalanche rescue dog from the Breckenridge Ski Patrol. The victim was buried under 1.15 meters of debris.

The Avalanche

Initial reports have the avalanche as a HS-AF-2+-O. This hard slab avalanche was triggered by the climbers and though it released from a large search area -- over 600 feet across -- the avalanche was small relative to the avalanche path. Initial estimates have the fracture line at 1-2 feet deep, but we hope to visit the fracture line on Friday. (We may bump the size up if the slab is learned to be thicker.) The avalanche started at about 13,800 feet and fell to nearly 11,700 feet from a very wind-loaded (or wind-drifted) S aspect.

The CAIC Danger Rating

N mtns: ... "Front Range and Summit/Vail zones: near and above treeline on N-E-S-SW aspects the danger is CONSIDERABLE with pockets of HIGH in recently drifted lee areas. On other aspects and below treeline the danger is rated MODERATE with pockets of CONSIDERABLE on slopes steeper than 35 degrees."


At this time information is still limited but we will pass along new information as it becomes available.

Over the years Quandary Peak -- especially the south side -- has be the site of numerous avalanche and mountaineering accidents. On November 11, 2002 two climbers were caught and 1 was seriously injured when swept down the south side of the peak.

A lone backcountry skier was buried and killed on the south side of the peak on December 21, 1999.

Sawtell and Atkins

1800hrs, updated at 2130 and 2345, March 24, 2005