Analyzing Nearly A Decade Of Accidents On Colorado’s 14ers

Greg Obernesser | ClimbingClimbing
peak, 14ers
A climber heads towards Longs Peak. Credit: My Rocky Mountain Park

Over the past decade there has been a recent uptick in accidents and sadly fatal incidences on Colorado’s mountain meccas, the 14ers, but why has this happened? According to Colorado Mountaineering, the growing popularity of the 58 peaks that are over 14,000ft (4,267m) in elevation has driven more people to these peaks and over the last decade, there has been a higher periodicity of these unfortunate events.

fall, 14ers
On the “Knife’s Edge” on Capitol Peak. Credit: Summit Post

Colorado Mountaineers compiled the accident data from 2010 to 2017 and tried to analyze it. The author of the post noted that this is not an “official” data set because it was collected through the incomplete internet sources where there are conflicting views that are hard to sift through and not all accidents get reported.

fall, 14ers
The “Leap of Faith” on the Maroon Bells traverse. Credit: Gear Junkie

However incomplete the data may be the results are fascinating and of the data collected here is what the author found:

Total deaths on Colorado 14ers (2010-2017): 57
Deaths by mountain: Longs Peak (9), Maroon Bells (9), Capitol (7), Crestone Needle (5), Crestone Peak (3), Kit Carson (3),  Snowmass Mountain (2), El Diente (2), Harvard (2), Evans (2), Missouri (2), Torreys (2), Princeton (2), Quandary (1), Windom (1), Antero (1),  Little Bear (1), Yale (1), Blanca (1), Challenger Point (1)
Deaths by gender: M (50), F (7)
Deaths by age range: >20 (2), 20-29 (16), 30-39 (16), 40-49 (6), 50-59 (13), 60 or over (5)
14er deaths by mountain range: Elk Range (18), Sangre De Cristo (14), Front Range (13),   Sawatch Range (8), San Juan Range (3), Tenmile-Mosquito Range (1)
Deaths by cause: fall (38), falling rocks (5), avalanche (3), heart attack (2), lightning (1), unclear (8)
Deaths by year: 2010 (10), 2011 (10), 2012 (6), 2013 (5), 2014 (6), 2015 (4), 2016 (5), 2017 (11)
Note: I have combined the Maroon Bells in the above list due to the number of accidents that occurred on the traverse between them making it hard to attribute these deaths to one or the other of these peaks) 

While sometimes the stats can sometimes speak for themselves, the author’s analysis provides an interesting take on the numbers. The first glaring stat is that more than half of the deaths in the past 7 years have been on only six mountains (Longs Peak, the Maroon Bells, Capitol Peak, and the Crestones), not really a surprise as those peaks are some of the most technical, steep, and difficult to route find. Five of the seven deaths on Capitol Peak happened in 2017 where mountaineers failed to return on the standard route and descended a cliffed out gully. The second interesting stat was that 88% percent of the fatalities were men, a reoccurring theme as SnowBrains has posted previously on risk and has noted that males are inclined to assume more risk. Thirdly, the fatality number on Longs Peak might be a bit of an outlier as Longs is in the Front Range and is heavily trafficked by the metropolitan Denver area. Lastly, that most of the accidents occur due to a fatal fall that might be attributed to a foothold/handhold breaking away.

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Climbing the ridge to Little Bear. Credit: Eric Lee

The stats also revealed some interesting surprises that might fly in the face of the status quo’s take on the peaks. One fascinating observation was that some of the toughest peaks to climb weren’t on the list at all. Sunlight Peak, Wilson Peak, nor Pyramid Peak made the list and are no joke to climb and require the same degree of difficulty in climbing as some of the others with higher fatality rates. Little Bear, another very rigorous peak, only had one death. The peaks in the San Juans, peaks that appear impossible to climb as they look buttressed by massive jagged cliffs did not have any deaths on them as well. May this be because of their lack of social popularity or maybe they are not as tough as they seem? Jury is still out…

A final fantastic point brought up by the author was that we who recreate in the mountains say we all live for them, but it’s hard for any of us to say we would like to die for them. Venturing to these places requires training, skill, and deep knowledge; respect the mountains, for once you don’t, they will not be merciful.


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One thought on “Analyzing Nearly A Decade Of Accidents On Colorado’s 14ers

  1. “The peaks in the San Juans, peaks that appear impossible to climb as they look buttressed by massive jagged cliffs did not have any deaths on them as well. May this be because of their lack of social popularity or maybe they are not as tough as they seem? Jury is still out…”

    Sigh, what’s the issue anyway? It should be as clear as creek water. Capitol Peak is clo0se to a more populated area than Little Bear, El Diente, Wilson etc. “Lack of social popularity,” wow what a murky, hazy remark.

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