• Ice Climber Falls 100 Feet on Screw and Climaxe
  • Diablo Canyon Climber Dies in 170-foot Fall
  • Climber Breaks Ankle and Back After Fall in the Palisades, California
  • Rockfall Knocks Out Belayer, She Never Lets Go
  • North Carolina Climber Dies in 50-foot Fall
  • Lightning Strikes Twice - Rockfall on the Cassin, Cima Piccolissima
  • Climber Dropped When Lowered in Autoblock Mode
  • Climber Dies in a Fall at Dishman Hills, Washington
  • You Must Have a Cold, Sweetie
  • Free-Soloist Falls to Death in Flatirons
  • Climber Falls 200 Feet on the Nose
  • Danger Zones: The Nose - Accidents On El Cap's Most Popular Route
  • Rappelling Accident Leaves Climber Shattered
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Gunks Climber Raps Off End of Rope
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Inattentive Spot Leads to Broken Arm
  • Climbing Accidents: My Helmet Saved My Life - Short Story Series
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Man Survives Fifty-Foot Ground Fall
  • Bolt Breaks, Climber Falls to Death
  • Climbing Accident: Earthquake, Avalanche, 21 Dead on Everest, Over 4,600 in Nepal
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Falls to Death, Apparent Bolt Failure
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Tragedy on Infinite Bliss - Rappelling Claims Climber
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Gear Rips, Leading Climber Critical
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Impaled by a Quickdraw
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Two Carabiners Break on Leaning Tower
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Fined For Obstructing Rescue
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Triggered Rockfall: Kills Two on El Cap
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Gear Pulls: Grounder at White Rock, New Mexico
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Death on Capitol Peak
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Respected Climber Falls 50 Feet and Dies at Cathedral Ledge
  • Rock Climbing Accident: NPS Chops Bolts: Man Dies Descending Forbidden Peak
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Not Again: Eldo Climber Raps Off End Of Rope
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Flake Breaks, Leader Falls, Hits Belayer
  • Rock Climbing Accident: BUNGLED!: Autoblock Belay Device Misused
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Fatal Gym Accident
  • Solo Ice Climber Dies in Fall
  • Climbing Accident: Three Killed in Cairngorms
  • Climbing Accident: Ice Climber Killed
  • Climbing Accident: Despite Warnings, Three Injured in Mount Washington Avalanche
  • Climbing Accident: Four Dead in Scottish Highlands
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Bolt Pulls Out in the New River Gorge
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Belayer Drops Climber 70 Feet to Ground
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Rope Cuts, Climber Dies in Eldorado
  • Climbing Accident: Belayer Pulls Leader Off Ice Climb
  • Climbing Accident: Fifty-Footer Rips Three Screws
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Rope Chopped by Carabiner
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Falls 140 Feet and Lives
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Todd Skinner Killed on Leaning Tower Rappel
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climbing's Insidious Danger: Rockfall
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Top Rope Slips Off
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Rappel Knot Fails, Climber Falls 300 Feet to Death
  • Climbing Accident: Ice Cave Collapses, Kills Hari Berger
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Unclips From Anchor, Falls to Death
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Counterweight Rappel Failure
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Back Cleaning Results in 150-foot Fall
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Dies When Rappels Off End of Rope
  • Mouse Attacks
  • Climbing Accident: Hold Breaks, 60-foot Fall
  • Climbing Accident: Avalanche Kills Six In Alps
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Autoblock Belay Failure Causes Fall
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Rappel Swing Goes Awry, Climber Injured and Rescued
  • Climbing Accident: Ice Climber Falls Entire Pitch, Dies
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Comes Unclipped, Falls 140 Feet at Red Rocks
  • Climbing Accident: Ice climber rides Vail's famous Fang 100 feet when the pillar collapses
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Two Bolt Hangers Break, Climber Falls
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Nose-hooked Carabiner Breaks, Causing Ground Fall
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Bowline Comes Untied, Climber Falls to Ground
  • Climbing Accident: Rope Burns Through Lowering Sling, Climber Falls to Ground
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Gear Rips, Leader Hits Ledge
  • Climbing Accident: 600-foot Ice Climbing Fall
  • Climbing Accident: Ice Climber Unropes, Slips, Falls 60 Feet
  • Climbing Accident: Ice Climber Dislodges Ice, Belayer Hit and Seriously Injured
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Belayer Drops Leader Due to Miscommunication
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Rappels Off Rope, Dies
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Leader Rips 10 Pieces on El Cap, Falls 80 Feet
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Leader Falls, Gear Rips, Belay Fails
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Death on Capitol Peak


    The Northwest Buttress (5.9) of Capitol Peak. Photo by Duane Raleigh.Capitol Peak (14,137 feet) in the Elk Mountains near Aspen, Colorado, is a tottering Jenga pile of frost-heaved rock considered by many to be the state’s most difficult 14er. Capitol’s notoriety is primarily derived from the Knife Edge, a 150-foot verge of polished granite that any summiteer on the Northeast Ridge must negotiate. It’s not hard. Not even fifth class. Some people rope up. Some straddle the sharp ridge. Some grab the top and traverse. Some simply walk the edge like a tightrope. However you do it, the exposure is extreme—thousands of feet—and can be quite intimidating.

    On June 19, Ryan Joseph Palmer, 35, and two companions were returning from the summit of Capitol. According to various reports, Palmer didn’t want to climb back across the Knife Edge and elected to forge down the north face. The low-angled terrain on the north face quickly steepened and at some point Palmer fell an estimated 300 feet. He died of blunt head trauma.

    [ ANALYSIS ]

    Stay on route. The path on any popular 14er should be discernible with a little sleuthing. Look for boot black and hand shine on the rocks. Trails often follow natural contours. When scouting a trail, look for sudden drops that could indicate cliffs. Don’t proceed until you’re sure you’re on the right path.

    Sometimes on popular routes there are well-trampled false “shortcuts” that can wander for a distance only to cliff-out, steepen and/or become loose and untraveled. The descent on the Northeast Ridge is particularly tricky since it requires climbers to descend the south face to a point well below the saddle. You must then re-ascend and drop onto the north face to reach camp. About midway on the descent several paths contour off toward the saddle, tempting leg-weary climbers with a promise of no more uphill, but all of these routes eventually turn into loose, dangerous fifth class scrambles on which climbers have died. If you discover you are off route, backtrack.

    Research your climbs. Note hazards and plan ahead for them. You might, for example, bring a 30-meter rope for the Knife Edge and belay, but the rock is so broken you’d be hard pressed to find decent anchors. Alternatively, you could rope up with a 10-meter cord and cross with a partner aiming to move to the opposite side of the ridge to provide a counterweight in the unlikely event of a fall.

    Finally, if you encounter mental resistance—if it doesn’t feel right—don’t solo. 


    Like so many mountain peaks, Colorado’s 14ers are broken up and loose, often nightmarishly unstable. Over time, trade routes such as this one get packed in and become safer, but the routes are still dangerous. At least eight climbers have died on Capitol. In 1992, Robert Palmer (no relation) fell 1,000 feet when he slipped off the Knife Edge. In 2009, the U.S. Paralympic swim-team coach James Flowers died after falling on the traverse around “K2,” another feature on the Northeast Ridge route.

    Reportedly, only two people have died after falling off the Knife Edge. Nevertheless, it’s an anomalous pitch. The exposure can add a level of instinctual aversion: fear of falling. If that “fight or flight” reaction kicks in with its attendant adrenaline release and jitters, soloing becomes dangerous, sometimes even fatal.  

    Reader's Commentary:

    Don't want to use Facebook, but still want to comment? We have you covered:

    Add Your Comments to this article: