Injured climber rescued from Summit’s Mount Royal after dangerous 10-hour mission
June 5, 2017
A 20-person search and rescue team successfully located an injured climber on Mount Royal near Frisco Saturday night, after a nearly 10-hour mission through jagged scree and rocky terrain.
The mission came at a busy time for the Summit County Rescue Group, which has been seeing its typical uptick in calls as spring starts to feel more like summer and high volumes of hikers and climbers head for the alpine.
“I think a lot of it is the snow starts melting and people look up in the mountains and they say, ‘Oh boy, that looks like some hikeable terrain up there,” mission coordinator Charles Pitman said. “They’re done with the winter and they’re ready to go out and go hiking.”
Often, Pitman said, people aren’t ready for the highly variable snow and weather conditions, as was the case with a duo that had to be rescued by helicopter just last week on Quandary Peak.
Conditions weren’t a major factor during Saturday night’s rescue, although people did appear to be crawling out the winter woodwork: There were eight different pairs of climbers on Royal Flush, the 5.9-rated route that ascends the northwest face of Mount Royal overlooking Interstate 70.
Pitman said that the injured climber, a 36-year-old male who was with a partner on the sixth pitch, took a fall about 15 feet above his last clip-in. That translates to a roughly 30-foot tumble before his rope caught him, and he sustained at least one severe ankle injury.
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The climber and his partner were able to slowly rappel down the route, but a daunting trip down the rest of the mountain awaited.
A search and rescue team, meanwhile, was on its way up carrying in a 600-foot rope weighing roughly 70 pounds. Carrying a rope that long is somewhat unusual, but the team wanted to minimize the amount of time spent on the loose, shifting apron of scree fanning out from the bottom of the route and extending several hundred feet down the mountain.
“We rarely take the 600 (foot rope) into the field because it is so big and so heavy — even the 400 weighs a lot,” Pitman said. “Most of what we take into the field are 200s and we tie them together, but because of the nature of that terrain up there, it’s better to use the really long ropes if we can get them in.”
Pitman said that the Mount Royal area is one of the most treacherous in the area to make a rescue, and last night there was some concern for the crew as it made its approach amid tumbling rocks and hidden debris.
“From our perspective, we can’t stress enough how super dangerous it is doing rescues up there — it’s really, really dangerous,” he said. “And the reason is because there is a lot of loose rock. As I understand it, there were rocks coming down that were smashing into trees and taking small trees out last night.”
To help with route finding, the crew beamed a powerful light from a rescue vehicle parked at the nearby trail head, which was able to illuminate most of the mountain’s rocky face.
From the bottom of the climbing route, the crew got the injured man down the remaining several hundred feet of rugged terrain by both carrying him in a sled and belaying him down steep sections, the latter of which was easier because he was a skilled climber.
Pitman said Saturday night was the first extended mission the rescue group had made on that climbing route since it was bolted in 2009. Hopefully, he said, they won’t have to make too many more trips out there.
“There’s a lot of scree, a lot of very loose dirt and rock, a lot of really thick brush,” Pitman said. “There are also small aspen and things that are pushed over and it’s really ugly to get through. This (rescue) started at 2 or 3 o’ clock in the afternoon and it didn’t get done until midnight.”
After he was brought down safely, the climber was transferred to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco and treated, Pitman said. As always, while his hospital trip may cost him, he won’t get billed a dime by the volunteer rescue group.
If backcountry travelers fear a hefty rescue bill, the thinking goes, they’re going to dig themselves further into trouble trying to get out — and the rescue group will still likely have to come.
“We would rather have them call earlier than later,” Pitman said. “I can’t tell you how many times since I’ve been on the team that the very first words out of somebody’s mouth when we find them is, ‘How much is this going to cost me?’ And we say, ‘It’s going to cost you exactly zero.'”