DENVER — It was a deadly summer on Colorado 14ers, especially on Capitol Peak near Aspen, where five climbers died. One Denver man was almost the sixth.
Joseph Seeds had climbed 48 of the the state’s 14ers, and Capitol Peak was going to be No. 49.
As an experienced climber, he knew it was one of the most difficult climbs and said he was prepared.
He and his climbing partners summited about 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 6 and were on their way down when it all went wrong.
“I think my biggest mistake was I got off route and I didn’t wait for the second person,” Seeds said.
Somehow, Seeds mistakenly veered off onto unstable terrain near K-2, with loose rock around him. It was a terrifying realization. This was where others had fallen to their deaths.
“I panicked at one point when I realized where I was, but I knew panic was not the way to get out of the situation,” Seeds said.
With spotty service, he was able to text a friend, who called the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office for help.
Hours went by and Seeds had almost worked his way back to the route when a helicopter came to rescue him.
He was uninjured, but exhausted.
“After the five previous deaths, they didn’t want me to be No. 6,” he said.
It has been an unprecedented year for fatalities, with five on Capitol Peak.
“It’s a treacherous mountain this summer,” said Jeff Edelson with Mountain Rescue Aspen.
He said the rock is very unstable and some climbers have gotten off route.
“We say about half of the accidents, whether they are injuries or deaths, fatalities that we have, are caused by people that were above their knowledge, skill, ability, and the other half are really just things happen,” Edelson said.
On top of the five deaths on Capitol Peak, there were also two on Maroon Bells and one at the Conundrum Creek Trail.
That’s where Susie DeForest died in August. Her mother said it was acute altitude sickness.
The 20-year-old from Pennsylvania was hiking with friends and began to vomit. She died before rescue crews could get to her.
“When you are not feeling well, and you are starting to feel sick and ill, the only solution to that is to turn around and go back to lower elevation,” Edelson said.
DeForest’s mother, Kate DeForest, emailed a statement saying in part, “(I)t’s our hope that out of our tragedy, someone else’s life might be saved.”
Experts say between the altitude and the rugged terrain, climbers need to be prepared.
“Respect that mountain. It will kill you if you don’t,” Seeds said.
Even experienced climbers like him can be humbled.