You can’t call yourself a Coloradan until you’ve climbed to the summit of one of Colorado’s 14,000+ mountains otherwise known as “bagging a 14er.” There are over 50 of these 14k peaks scattered across the state that range from moderately challenging to extraordinarily difficult to ascend but one of these peaks is responsible for five deaths in under 43 days.
The deadly peak is Capitol Peak of the Elk Mountains and while this mountain has taken lives in the past, it has never been as brutal as the current Summer of 2017 – five people have died on this peak within a span of just over six weeks.
Capitol Peak is one of many 14ers located in the Elk Mountain Range which many climbers and Colorado mountaineering experts agree is one of the more difficult ranges to climb in the Centennial State. The climb to Capitol features many difficult ascents and descents and most of the route is considered Class 4, one of the most difficult classes of mountain.
The first death came on July 15 when Jake Lord of Parker fell. The next victim of Capitol was another Parker resident Jeremy Shull, who lost his life while attempting to climb the knife edge portion of Capitol on August 6. On August 22, the bodies of Carlin Brightwell and Ryan Marcil were found at the base of Capitol Peak. The deaths of the young couple stirred the Colorado 14er community to warn climbers about the preparedness needed to take on Capitol. The latest death came on August 27 when 21-year old Zackaria White of Pine was killed in a fall.
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office states that the latest death can be attributed to a disagreement on route choice. The 14er community has reached out to those who want to attempt Capitol Peak and contributes the death to unpreparedness and veering off safe routes. Lloyd Athearn, executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative released a statement regarding the dangerous peak:
“When you go up a mountain, unless you’re consciously stopping and turning around and saying, ‘This is what the view looks like when you’re going down,’ you might come down a route you didn’t come up,” Athearn said. “You might think it’s the same, but if you’re not clear about where you are, you could be dealing with loose rock on the way down that you didn’t see on the way up. And that can be a pretty lethal combination.”