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2 Climbers Seriously Injured Near Independence Pass, Triggers Large SAR Response

PITKIN COUNTY, CO – Two climbers are recovering from severe injuries after a nearly 60-foot fall at Weller Slab in the White River National Forest on July 28, 2023. The incident, which occurred adjacent to the Weller Campground on Independence Pass, prompted a swift response from multiple agencies.

At approximately 9:15 PM, Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to a distress call from a woman near the campground. Upon arrival, they found the climbers had suffered significant injuries from the fall.

Mountain Rescue Aspen (MRA) rapidly dispatched an initial team of four members to the site at around 10:20 PM. The rescue operation quickly expanded, with over 20 MRA members, including a West Elk Mountain Rescue (WEMR) member, working diligently to secure the climbers’ safety.

Aspen Ambulance medics accompanied the MRA team into the field to provide immediate medical assistance to the injured climbers. By 11:19 PM, the MRA team and medics had reached and begun administering care to the climbers.

Given the severity of their injuries, one climber was airlifted by Flight for Life Colorado at approximately 12:20 AM. The other climber was stabilized and subsequently transported by ambulance.

The complex and demanding rescue operation concluded with all MRA team members safely exiting the field by 4:10 PM.

Pitkin County Sheriff Michael Buglione expressed his deep gratitude to all organizations involved in the rescue. In his statement, he mentioned the MRA, WEMR, Aspen Ambulance, Flight for Life Colorado, Aspen Police Department, and John Bakken for their dedication and commitment in getting the climbers to medical care.

You can help support Colorado’s search and rescue volunteers by purchasing a COSAR Card.

Lessons Learned and Safety Tips

The incident underlines the importance of safety measures while participating in adventure sports like rock climbing. It’s crucial to note that regardless of skill level, all climbers should:

  1. Check equipment regularly: Regular inspection of climbing gear is vital. Worn or faulty equipment can lead to accidents.

  2. Always wear a helmet: A helmet can protect against falling debris and cushion falls, potentially reducing the severity of head injuries.

  3. Understand your limits: Climbers should be aware of their skill level and avoid taking unnecessary risks.

  4. Always have a plan: Before setting off, ensure you have a well-thought-out plan, including an emergency response plan.

  5. Don’t climb alone: Always climb with a partner or in a group. If something goes wrong, having others present can make all the difference.

  6. Learn and practice rescue skills: Basic rescue skills, such as knowing how to call for help or administer first aid, are invaluable in emergencies.

By following these guidelines, climbers can significantly reduce their risk of accidents and improve their overall safety while enjoying the sport. Learn more about mountain safety to be prepared and stay safe.

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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