Mountain reads: ‘Colorado 14er Disasters’ by Mark Scott-Nash

NOTE: This is an installment of an occasional series on books, old and new, about outdoor adventures.

We’ve seen an uptick in the allure of alpine adventure, and nowhere is this more true than in Colorado.

Specifically, the state has seen a spike in interest and visitors to its 14ers, the peaks that rise to heights of 14,000 feet. It’s a rite of passage for many in Colorado to climb one, and as I can attest, the attraction goes well outside of Colorado’s borders.

But as is true of any wild place, the mountains can be risky places to be, particularly for the unprepared and inexperienced. Even seasoned hikers and mountaineers can get caught in a bad place in the high country.

And that’s the point of Mark Scott-Nash’s “Colorado 14er Disasters,” a compact book detailing incidents that have led to major rescue efforts, serious injuries, and even deaths on the high peaks.

I came into this book hoping for something akin to “Death in the Grand Canyon,” a sizable tome that recorded every recorded death there. This is not that book – there are far too many incidents, too many deaths, and too many unknown and unrecorded stories to cover. Instead, the author picks a number of accidents and incidents that are representative of what happens in the mountains when things go sideways.

In putting this together, Scott-Nash goes through incident reports, news reports and interviews with people involved in the accidents or those who took part in rescues. The reasons for these mishaps vary – weather, getting lost, accidental falls, rockfall/avalanche, etc. Most times, the fault lies with something the victim did or did not do.

Scott-Nash doesn’t pull punches. Where he finds fault in the individual, he says so. Some people may find some of these observations harsh. But at the same time, the stark description of mistakes and assumed risk also serve as important warnings for those new mountain adventures.

The book contains helpful appendices and a glossary of terms and is peppered with informational blurbs concerning relevant information in each chapter.

What I found particularly interesting was the fact that I’m familiar with some of the stories he tells and have been to some of the mountains where the accidents he profiles took place. Viewing Humboldt Peak, for instance, I can see exactly where the dangerous portions of this otherwise tame mountain could be. I can see where people could get lost on Mount of the Holy Cross (though trail improvements, including huge cairns on the mountain’s northwest ridge have helped), and can easily spot the problem areas on Longs Peak, a burly mountain that is routinely underestimated by far too many climbers.

It’s a matter-of-fact book that doesn’t go into narrative storytelling. Rather, “Colorado 14er Disasters” is more like an expanded compilation of mountain incident reports, organized and written in a way to help readers understand just how tenuous life can be in the high country. Most importantly, it dissects each incident and provides relevant information readers can take with them the next time they plan a mountain adventure.

Bob Doucette

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8 thoughts on “Mountain reads: ‘Colorado 14er Disasters’ by Mark Scott-Nash

  1. That books is awesome! Of course, I read it in like a day, because I was absolutely mesmerized by the stories but it certainly gave me a healthy fear of the mountains. I found deep respect that way.

      • Knowing the 14er community is fairly tight knit, I can see how an assessment of any accident can be a sensitive issue, but what I gained from reading the story is a sense of not taking this kind of hobby too lightly.
        I haven’t been to Humboldt…yet….so, I’ll see the story as knowledge gained.

      • For sure. Main rule: Bring that ice axe (and know how to use it) if you’re going to glissade. Humboldt’s slopes look fairly gentle, but it has plenty of cliff bands you won’t see until it’s too late.

      • Yes it was. David Worthington. He glissaded down the south slopes, I believe, but launched off a cliff he didn’t see until it was too late. Suffered massive injuries. Eventually died shortly after rescuers got to him.

        I did a glissade off some of the gentler slopes on Wetterhorn Peak a few years back that was an absolute blast. Dropped 1,000 feet in seconds. Bruised my tailbone, but that was fun. And worth the effort saved from hiking down. I’d do it again, but I’d make sure I knew what the runout looked like.

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