A Denver woman died Saturday when she fell about 900 from a position near the summit of Capitol Peak, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
Another climbing party witnessed the fall and called the Pitkin County Regional Emergency Dispatch Center at 7:56 am Saturday, the sheriff’s office said in a news release. The witness said the woman was hiking solo and fell when a rock handhold she attempted to grab gave way.
Mountain Rescue Aspen mobilized for a body recovery after it was alerted by the sheriff’s office.
“The witness was able to provide MRA with the exact location of the woman’s body,” the news release says. “It was then estimated that the woman had fallen approximately 900 [feet]falling from the route that connects the Knife Edge to the Capitol Peak summit down to Pierre Lakes Basin.”
Parker Lathrop, director of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, said Saturday afternoon he didn’t have information about whether the climber had reached the summit and was returning or if she was still trying to make the summit of the 14,137-foot peak.
MRA was able to get assistance for the recovery from Flight For Life Colorado and the Montrose Helitack of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. An airplane flying for the Aspen-based conservation group EcoFlight also assisted by surveying the landscape during the initial stages of planning.
“A team of two MRA volunteers was flown to K2, a nearby 13,664-foot peak, to establish radio communications, evaluate safety and close off the hiking trail,” the news release says. “A team of four MRA volunteers was flown into Pierre Lakes Basin. This team hiked up to the woman’s body and prepared it for extraction from the field.”
The woman’s body was flown to Cow Camp, about 7 miles up Capitol Creek Road, shortly before 3 pm The Pitkin County Coroner’s Office took over the accident investigation at that point. The woman’s name is being withheld until the coroner’s office reaches her next of kin.
Lathrop confirmed that the death Saturday was the first of 2022 on Capitol Peak, regarded as one of the toughest standard climbs among Colorado’s peaks over 14,000 feet. There is extreme exposure and loose rock at many high-elevation points.
The14ers.com website has this warning about Capitol Peak “This is the most-difficult of the standard 14er routes; it’s long, tedious and dangerous. Climbers have died here, including five in the summer of 2017 so don’t take it lightly, don’t go if you don’t have solid 3/4 climbing skills and don’t go just to check this mountain off your list. It’s a serious climb and we want you to make it back safely.”
Lathrop said no information was immediately available about the woman’s climbing experience. It is believed she hiked into Capitol Creek Valley on Friday.
He said her body was situated in a place where rescuers could reach it without great peril. “Overall I think the recovery was relatively straightforward,” he said.
Rescuers did a thorough assessment of the situation before heading into the field because of an incident during an attempted body recovery on Capitol Peak last year, Lathrop said. In August 2021, three members of MRA were injured when a “massive rockfall” was triggered above them. It was believed that recreational climbers on the Knife Edge triggered the rockfall that injured the MRA members.
In Saturday’s incident, all personnel were out of the field at 3:54 pm “Overall, 25 volunteers from Mountain Rescue Aspen, two Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputies, a Pitkin County deputy coroner and flight crews from Flight For Life Colorado, Montrose Helitack and EcoFlight participated in the recovery operation,” the release adds.
The sheriff’s office urged climbers to be aware of loose rock and unstable conditions on many peaks in the Elk Mountains, particularly on Capitol Peak. Lathrop said there has been a lot of climbing activity on Capitol Peak this season, as evidenced by his monitoring of climbing websites. Many adventurers have been posting photos of sunrise scenes, he said.