Detailed Accident Report

Back to accidents page

Date: 2005-12-22
Submitted By: CAIC
Place: Kelso Mountain
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 2 hikers caught, 1 partly buried, 1 buried and killed

Kelso Mountain

December 22, 2005

2 hikers caught, 1 partly buried, 1 buried and killed

Accident Summary

At about 1230 hours Thursday afternoon two teenage hikers were caught in a hard slab avalanche on the east side of Kelso Mountain -- a little over 3 miles south of Bakerville and about 1 mile east of the summit of Torreys Peak. One young man -- an 18-year-old from Colorado Springs -- was buried and killed.

On Wednesday the two teenagers (ages 18 and 17) had set out from Bakerville with aspirations to climb the Kelso Ridge (aka East Ridge) of Torreys Peak. The pair snowshoed up Stevens Gulch following the summer trail to the start of the route. The pair camped Wednesday night near the bottom of the climb. Strong winds racked the mountains and caused heavy blowing snow by Thursday morning the winds only grew stronger. With ferocious weather the boys reconsidered their plans and opted for retreat. The pair packed up and started back down the summer trail.

Very strong winds made walking difficult and heavy blowing snow obscured visibility. As the two traversed below the broad east side of Kelso Mountain the boys were slammed by a wall of moving snow.

Carried only a short distance and near the edge of the slide the 17-year-old found himself partly buried. His friend was gone. The boy wiggled himself free and left his pack as a marker. Seeing no clues of his friend and since neither were equipped with avalanche rescue transceivers or probes he hurried off to get help. Some where along the trail he used his cell phone to call to 911.

Avalanche

Though very broad, this combination soft slab and hard slab avalanche was classified as medium-sized relative to the avalanche path (HS/SS-AF-R3/D3-O). The avalanche fractured 750 feet across the east-facing slope, but only released about 2 feet deep. The weak layer was a 3-4-inch thick layer of small, loose, faceted grains. The avalanche ran at least 460 vertical feet with the north end spreading across the summer trail. Along the summer trail the slope was very shallow but steepened to 37 degrees. Because of the weather conditions, it is very reasonable that this avalanche was a natural release.

Rescue

At a few minutes after 1300 hours the Clear Creek County Sheriff's Department notified Alpine Rescue Team which mobilized a response. Through the sheriff's department Alpine resquested the Flight For Life's Avalanche Deployment, and the FFL helicopter from Summit County responded with a Breckenridge Ski Patrol avalanche specialist and an avalanche rescue dog and handler. Weather conditions prevented landing near the accident site so the helicopter set down in Bakerville. The ski patrollers and Alpine Rescue Team members used snowmobiles to access the site. Above treeline the conditions and deep snow made for slow going.

Some time after 1500 the Breckenridge Ski Patrol dog arrived on scene and quickly alerted on a spot in the debris. Probing was inconclusive so searchers started digging. At times the wind gusts were so strong that several rescuers were knocked over by the winds. A bit later the dog alerted a few feet over and probing confirmed the victim's location.

The victim as recovered from under 5-6 feet of snow. He had been buried for about 3 hours and 10 minutes. Rescuers recovered the teenager's body and returned back to Bakerville.

We will most more information as it becomes available.

Morris and Atkins, 12/22 at 1745. Updated on 12/28.