Deaths on Capitol Peak: Why it’s so dangerous and how to climb it safely

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PITKIN COUNTY, Colo. — After five deaths on Capitol Peak in the past two months, experts are warning people considering climbing the 14er of the extreme conditions and urging them to take the proper precautions.

“Capitol Peak is not a beginner’s climb. You should have years of experience on other peaks and consider going with someone who has climbed it before,” meteorologist Chris Tomer warned.

Knife edge on Capitol Peak

Tomer said he climbed almost every other 14er in Colorado before attempting Capitol Peak.

“On my first attempt going up here, I actually turned around. Because I got to the start of this and I said ‘This is not for me,'” Tomer said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever shared this. But I turned around and came back at a later date when I felt more comfortable doing it.

“You should be able to handle exposure, be able to climb the standard route in the dark, be in the best shape of your life, forget about social media and be in the moment by paying attention to maintaining three points of contact at all times.”

RELATED: Capitol Peak demands respect

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said this has been an “unprecedented year” for rescues and deaths on the peak.

In the previous 10 years, four people have died on Capitol Peak. In 2017, five people died in a span of six weeks.

  • On July 15, 25-year-old Jake Lord fell up to 328 feet while climbing Capitol Peak.
  • On Aug. 6, 35-year-old Jeremy Shull of Parker fell after falling from the east side of knife edge while ascending the mountain.
  • On Aug. 20, Aspen couple Carlin Brightwell, 27, and Ryan Marcil, 26, died while attempting to summit Capitol Peak when they fell nearly 200 feet.
  • And on Aug. 26, a 21-year-old man fell nearly 700 feet to his death after taking a dangerous shortcut down the north face of the mountain. It was his first 14er and we were told he was wearing skateboard shoes.

While there is no definitive answer as to why there is an increase in deaths this year, county officials have some guesses.

“I’m finding that a lot of people are going up there ill prepared,” DiSalvo said.

Aspen Mountain Rescue, a volunteer search and rescue team, said it frequently gets calls from hikers who are out without proper equipment, food and water.

“We’ve had a number of rescues this summer to go get people who are hiking in flip-flops,” said Jeff Edelson of Aspen Mountain Rescue.

Officials say many of the hikers attempting the dangerous peaks are not prepared for the skill level necessary, either.

“If you can’t give me the definition of a bivy sack or you can’t be prepared to spend the night with 30-degree temperatures, you have no business being up there,” DiSalvo said.

Experts say climbers need to research trails before heading out, prepare for the worst and do not stray from the standard routes or trails.

There are no shortcuts on Capitol Peak.

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