Two hikers were walking the Gregory Canyon trail near Boulder, Colorado on Sunday, September 27 when they discovered a body at the base
of the Fifth Pinnacle, part of the rock ridge known as Gregory Flatironette. Police identified the man as 22-year-old Angus Moloney. Authorities believe
that Moloney fell nearly 100-feet, according to the Denver Times. He was found without a rope, harness, or any other climbing equipment.
The Daily Camera reports that Moloney, from Montreal, was visiting friends in Boulder. Moloney told his friends that he was going to the mountain
park for the day to climb and would return by evening. A search operation was already underway when he was found by the hikers the next morning.
Moloney’s mother, Jean Palmer-Moloney, told the Daily Camera that “Angus was a skilled climber, but he didn’t have on a helmet. It was an accident.
I think young men, especially in their 20s, feel invincible. But they have to know that they need to be safe.”
Because Moloney was alone, it is impossible to know exactly what caused him to fall. Mountain Project cautions Fifth Pinnacle climbers that “it must be
noted that the quality of the rock is suspect and due to its exposure and low traffic, the North ridge sports a spectacular crop of green and black
lichen.” Perhaps Moloney reached for a loose handhold, or stepped on a lichen-covered foot. Maybe he was struck by rockfall. Any number of minor mishaps,
during a free-solo, can result in catastrophe.
Free-soloing is common on Boulder’s low-angle Flatirons. Boulderites, and visiting climbers like Moloney, routinely jog up for an after work lap in running
shoes. The most popular routes clock in at low-fifth class, like the East Face (5.4) of the Third Flatiron.
But the popularity of Flatiron free-soloing does not mitigate its risks. Judging by his lack of equipment and the location of his remains, Moloney
was likely participating in the tried Boulder tradition.
Don’t climb unprotected. There is no room for error, and no such thing as a safe or casual free-solo. The unthinkable is always a risk. Given that Moloney
fell over 100 feet, it is unlikely that a helmet would have prevented the fatal accident. If rockfall from above caused his fall, however, a helmet
might have made a difference.
Moloney was soloing unfamiliar terrain on a loose route. Routes with loose rock, lichen, or ones that are infrequently climbed involve unmanageable
hazards, which can be deadly to a free-soloist.
Bottom line: Understand the risks of free-soloing. It’s not worth your life.