The following article is something I thought was particularly good when I first
read it. Like the author, many of us who have climbed for years have given insufficient
consideration to some of things mentioned.
By Andres C. Cervantes
The American Alpine News October 1997
On Wednesday, July 2, 1997, Todd Marshall, 34, an Estes Park resident fell
and died on the second-to-last pitch of the Petit Grepon in Rocky Mountain National
Park, Colorado. He landed head first and was not wearing a helmet. His belayer
Matteo Bacedo of Italy, became entangled in the rope and remained on the belay
ledge through a cold, windy night unable to lower Marshall or himself. According
to the Rocky Mountain News, Marshall, an experienced climber, hung upside down
for almost 24 hours before his body could be lowered. It is not my position
to extrapolate on the event itself. I have neither the desire nor the experience
However, what I can contribute is this: I arrived in Estes Park on May 14,
1997, and began my third summer of employment at Cheley Colorado Camps. On my
to-do list were Lumpy Ridge and a number of alpine routes including the Petit
Grepon. As the summer business picked up, my coworkers/climbing partners could
no longer make the same time commitment to climbing that I could. I became quite
desperate for partners. I posted small notes in some coffee shops listing my
climbing ability, a telephone number, and little else.
I stopped by the Colorado Mountain School where I had taken an ice climbing
class the previous year. Mike Donahue was behind the counter of his shop when
I asked him if he had any students who needed partners. While I was talking
to him, one of his employees, Austin Wallace, a guide-in-training, overheard
us and mentioned that he needed a partner. We shared some experiences and climbing
ability. After doing several multi-pitch routes on Lumpy Ridge, we planned to
do a route on the Petit. As for the notes I posted, I received a few calls.
Almost all of them I just never called back because I now had a partner. Among
those who contacted me was Todd Marshall.
I was in the Gold Rush Coffee Shop Saturday morning when I read the newspaper
report of the accident and recognized Todd's name. Later that same day, Austin
would read the article and recognize the names of both men. On separate occasions
they had been in the shop looking for partners. Austin, who now considered me
his partner, didn't speak up when they mentioned they needed partners. In the
days that followed Todd Marshall and Matteo Baceda met, and on June 30, came
into the shop together and asked about conditions in the park. That was the
last time Austin saw them.
The two men climbed a few pitches together and then planned to do a route on
the Petit on July 2. Austin and I planned to do a route on the Petit on July
After the accident neither of us felt comfortable climbing so soon on the Petit.
There had just been too many similarities. Instead we climbed the Northcutt-Carter
route on Halletts Peak. Although we didn't talk about it, in between pitches
we were both thinking of belay escapes, lowering operations, and first-aid hypotheticals.
We both had helmets and prusiks. The weather was perfect, we stayed on route
(thanks to Austin), and we had a great time: a textbook climb.
But while eating lunch the next day at Ed's Cantina, we began talking about
the accident again and our brief contact with the participants. It all came
down to chance. I was so desperate for a climbing partner, I would have climbed
with Charles Manson if he could've tied in correctly. Austin pointed out that
at our first meeting, even he and I had only asked about climbing ability. Until
we read about the accident, neither of us mentioned first-aid training, self-rescue
training, or other emergency climbing skills.
We both agreed the next time we 'found' climbing partners we would ask about
their emergency skills, which are crucial in mountain environments where partners
are almost completely dependent upon one another. I do not know if Marshall
and Baceda covered this in their introduction, and again, it is not my area
of responsibility. But I do know that in the past my own partner selection left
something to be desired, and this accident has served as a forceful reminder
of what can occur between unfamiliar partners.