Three Deaths in North America

Posted on: May 17, 2011

An injured climber is rescued from 11,500-foot camp on the West Buttress route of Denali (6194m) in 2010. [Photo] Keese Lane

Yesterday, reported a fatality on the West Buttress route of Denali. Unfortunately, that incident was just one of a series of accidents in North America over the last few weeks. As we were posting our report, a second climber died on the mountain. Below is a brief description of that accident and two earlier ones.

Denali, Alaska


On May 16, climbers stationed at the 17,200-foot camp on Denali witnessed Luciano Colombo fall 1,000 feet to his death while descending Denali Pass. On May 12—four days earlier—a Swiss climber died in the same area (an account of that accident can be read here.)

Colombo, age 67 of Italy, was returning after a summit attempt, and was slightly ahead of his other two teammates. The pass he was negotiating has a history of falls, and park rangers encourage climbers to use the fixed protection while descending. Colombo, however was unroped at the time of the fall. He was unable to self arrest on the 45-degree neve slope. On the day of Colombo's death, the winds were calm and the sky was clear.

Mt. Rainier, Washington

On Mt. Rainier, Tucker Taffe died on May 11 after falling into a crevasse at 13,180' on the upper Nisqually Glacier.

Guides from Alpine Ascents International were on scene when climbing rangers arrived and had rappelled into the crevasse, determining that Taffe was dead. Taffe's body was removed from the crevasse and taken via helicopter from the mountain.

Thirty-three-year-old Tucker Taffe, who was traveling in a party of four, was an experienced skier originally from New York, though he lived and worked in Utah.

Ruth Gorge, Alaska

On April 28, an avalanche in Denali National Park's Ruth Gorge killed Chris Lackey. Lackey was one of two parties camping on the Ruth Gorge, just south of the Moose's Tooth (3150m). Their campsite was struck by icefall from a serac that collapsed in the morning. The other four climbers immediately located Lackey, who was unconscious and faintly breathing. The climbers placed a 911 call via satellite phone. The next morning Denali National Park's high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter and two NPS mountaineering rangers launched a rescue attempt.

When Lackey was loaded into the helicopter and en route to an ambulance stationed at Mile 133 on the Parks Highway, the on-board rangers and paramedics announced that he had died from his injuries. The four remaining climbers, who were uninjured, were evacuated while Lackey's remains were transported to Talkeeta. Lackey, 39, was a native of Houston, and leaves behind a wife and two children.

CORRECTION: Alpinist previously reported that Taffe "skied into an open crevasse." This was incorrect, Taffe fell through a snow-bridge while skinning uphill.-ED

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I too am a skydiver; I jump at Perris. I've been jumping for about 10 years and climbing for 20. While I'll agree with you that climbing is more dangerous than skydiving, I believe it is possible to make calculated risk decisions in climbing. Much like in jumping, calculating risk in climbing requires frequent study and further education. Staying boned up with your avalanche assessment knowledge and skills, getting beta from other climbers, route selection, and knowing the strengths (mental or physical) of yourself or your partner all carry a heavy hand when it comes to calculating risk in alpinism. I think one big difference between the two sports is time of exposure to relative danger. In skydiving you're only exposed to any real danger for about 15-20 minutes (the time required for getting to altitude, jumping, and landing your canopy). In climbing your exposure can last for many consecutive hours. I think the bottomline is that there is definitely a way to stack the deck in your favor when it comes to climbing through careful planning and constant re-assessment. Just like in skydiving right? Plan the dive, dive the plan, but have an out.



2011-06-27 04:04:51

Mountain climbing it seems, at least to me, has high risks that a climber is not able to adjust for in order to survive. I've been a skydiver and motorcycle rider for over thirty years. During a freefall, assuming one takes at least the most basic precautions, it takes a min of two mistakes to die. Not so in mountain climbing. On a mountain, you can die from any number of causes just for being there. It seems that most fatalities happen from hidden, unseen causes which the climber has no control over. Speaking for me alone, I can't justify the risks. Climbing is just too damn dangerous. In skydiving, it is rare for the most experienced among us to die. However, it seems the world's best climbers die frequently. Don't get me wrong, I am in no way knocking climbing and I don't advocate government intervention, "for our own good", as they like to say. I do find climbing fascinating. I've read many books written by climbers. I just don't understand how anyone can accept the degree of risk for the reward. All I can say is good luck to all of you and keep writing books so maybe one day I can understand your risk/reward ratio. However, I can say that the skydiving community continues to invent new ways to kill themselves. Have you seen the new 1 to 1 wing load parachutes that you have to land like an airplane? One miscalculation during landing and you meet the ground at 60+ mph. For the first time in the history of the sport more people are dying under a perfectly working parachute than for any other reason. In closing, for those of you who would ask why anyone would jump out of a perfectly good airplane; you obviously haven't seen our airplanes. Don't forget to pray "before" you get yourself between a rock and a hard place.

Eastman People's Republik of Maryland, Police States of America

2011-06-15 13:18:57
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