Backcountry safety: When is it OK to be separated from your partners?

Some bad news from the high country got me to thinking about a subject which seems to be a lot more gray than it would initially appear.

On Sunday, a Canadian man named Martin Pigeon fell to his death while trying to climb Colorado’s Windom Peak. A report from the Durango Herald newspaper says he was separated from his partner and was downhill from him when he fell more than 200 feet from a ledge.

The man was described as an experienced climber, and he and those who were with him had already tackled two difficult peaks (both rated as being harder than Windom) in the Chicago Basin area.

Message boards seem to have the same theme: Never get separated from your partner.

There are times, however, when I’ve been separated from my group on trails because I’m a notoriously slow downclimber. On other trips, I can remember hiking with some people, and one person looking at the climb ahead and deciding to wait at the base until the rest of us were done.

And still others who have chimed in on this particular accident have said it’s not hard to be on the route up Windom and get visually out of touch with those behind you.

What do you think? Do you always make sure to keep everyone in your group within sight? Or are there certain circumstances (ease of route, traffic on the route, experience of your partners) where it’s OK to be separated? Let me know what you think.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

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