I read this article (blog) about a death on a Colorado Thirteener at www.100summits.org (maintained by Matt Payne). The deceased climber himself left profound words of wisdom for all mountaineers. I felt compelled to share his mountaineering wisdom. Steve is proof that all the experience and knowledge possible will not save you from a fatal accident – not in the mountains, not anywhere. Even if you do everything “right”, things can go wrong. Anyone adventuring in the rocky crests of mountains “can slip on ice and die”.
Thunder Pyramid is only a half mile south of neighboring Pyramid Peak, a Fourteener. It is in the Elk Range along with the famous Maroon Bells.
Thunder Pyramid is a difficult mountain, as or more difficult than Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells.
Rest in Peace: Steve Gladbach fell from Thunder Pyramid on June 23, 2013.
I changed some formatting and corrected some typos. Other than that, the following is from the post on www.100summit.org.
Perhaps the most vexing, painful and profound mountaineering death of 2013, if not in the past decade of Colorado mountaineering accidents was the death of Steve Gladbach on Thunder Pyramid. Steve had ascended all of the Fourteeners four times (many up to 15 times total) as well as over 700 Thirteeners and is widely considered one of the most accomplished Colorado mountaineers of his day. Steve Gladbach was an amazing and gifted man – a true friend to anyone and everyone. The impacts of his death were felt by many Colorado mountaineers, including me [Matt Payne]. This was Steve’s second climb of Thunder Pyramid, and as he has done on so many occasions, was climbing it to help friends achieve their goals.
In an infamous post on 14ers.com from Steve himself, he was quoted:
Feel free to post messages of condolence to my children and family.
Do not ask for details (beyond those that a newspaper would report) so that you can “Learn” from my mistakes.
Please, Site Administrators: if you value me at all as a person, delete such requests immediately. I have seen about 5% (That 5% often does more harm than the 95% does good) of every accident thread deteriorate into a useless guessing game designed to “analyze” the accident. In reality, it only serves to stir up feelings of guilt and loss amongst those left behind. The “lessons” learned never serve to prevent future incidents, because the armchair critics assimilate the info by convincing themselves that, “Since I take precaution ‘X’, that will not happen to me.” BS.
In every thread (and in at least one book where the author told me he didn’t necessarily consider it important to interview the primary survivor), the critics boil the details down to some trite conclusion which can be filed under a particular chapter of stuff “not to do”. Every time, you hear how there are no such things as “accidents”; the person performing the analysis can always explain how they would have prevented the accident. If only they could be there every time we climb!
These things are true:
- Training highlights preventable mistakes: PLEASE take a series of CMC or private courses designed to build skills. Repeat classes periodically as long as you are a climber.
- Mentorship and group participation can teach skills (Thanks, Tom Pierce for the fieldwork in Ruby Basin.) There is always something new to be learned from a partner.
- GOOD books, i.e. Freedom of the Hills, written to teach actual skills, can help.
- Time in the field teaches valuable, applicable (but not perfect) lessons.
- Climbing is dangerous and each climber must decide for themselves the level of risk they wish to assume.
- Rocks move, feet slip, snow slides.
3.The exact conditions leading to an accident are never analyzed 100% correctly (witnesses are dead, traumatized, or non-existent), so the conclusions are always skewed.
- Time in the field increases that opportunity for #1 and #2 to catch up with you!
What is useful:
- Expressions of condolence.
- Continued comfort and support to those left behind. An internet note and attendance at a memorial is 1% of what you COULD choose to do.
- Take the memory of those lost with you each time you go into the field. Remembering those who have passed will do more to heighten your own awareness of potential dangers than would a critique of their errors. Remember: you’ve already taken courses, participated with good mentors, and read valuable books. You know what mistakes can be made. You know that you can make zero mistakes and still die.
Vigilance is the best defense and bringing along the memory of those lost partners will always heighten vigilance. Sadly, none of us are 100% vigilant. Whether an 18-year-old boy with 2 years of experience or a 70-year-old legend with 50 years of climbing, you could slip on some ice and die.
If we’re lucky, we might remember that and look twice before we take that next step. ONWARDS! – Steve
Out respect for Steve’s wishes, that’s all I’ll post here, other than what is known to be true:
After a successful ascent of Thunder Pyramid, Steve chose to descend separately from his group and fell to his death.
[End of Blog Post]
My condolences to Steve’s surviving family members and friends. I only disagree with Steve about lessons-learned. Most of us don’t retain every lessons-learned story, but we retain some and some are planted into our subconscious. Those of us who have been alive for a few decades have seen the same mistakes repeated. Despite everything we learn from history, it also repeats. At some level, sharing information like this raises awareness and helps make us a little smarter. Nearly everything we do has risk – that cannot be eliminated. Educate yourself on the risks and do what you can to prepare.
Happy Trails – TJ Burr