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1 climber found dead, 2 others injured following weekend avalanche in Rocky Mountain National Park

Search and rescue crews on Mt. Meeker on May 29, 2022.  The avalanche was reported mid-morning...
Search and rescue crews on Mt. Meeker on May 29, 2022. The avalanche was reported mid-morning on the mountain; the first climber was found several hours later.(Rocky Mountain National Park)
Published: May. 29, 2022 at 12:04 PM MDT|Updated: May. 30, 2022 at 7:27 AM MDT
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ESTES PARK, Colo. (KKTV) - A search and rescue for avalanche victims Sunday night ended tragically with the discovery of one dead under the debris.

The victim was one of three climbers feared trapped following the avalanche on Mt. Meeker Sunday morning. The slide was reported near the Dreamweaver Couloir, which is described by mountaineering company Colorado Mountain School as “one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s classic snow couloirs that offers steep snow climbing with the potential of mixed ice and rock terrain.”

“The rock fall and avalanche were witnessed by other climbers in the area,” RMNP spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said in a statement.

A woman and man were found alive at the scene.

Despite it being Memorial Day weekend, conditions faced by rescue crews were anything but summery; above 11,500 feet where the search was underway, winter was still in full swing. Trail Ridge Road inside the park had already been closed prior to the avalanche due to poor weather conditions.

Officials say the male survivor suffered severe injuries and needed to be airlifted out, but the weather made the rescue difficult.

“Due to the location and severity of injuries of one of the males, Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue team members requested assistance from a Colorado National Guard helicopter from Buckley Air Force Base to extricate him via a hoist operation, using a winch-operated cable. This occurred at approximately 2 p.m. when there was a brief weather window. Rocky Mountain Rescue assisted with the helicopter hoist operations. The man was flown to Upper Beaver Meadows, transferred to Northern Colorado Med Evac air ambulance and then flown to Medical Center of the Rockies,” Patterson said.

The woman’s injuries were minor, though she was later transported by ambulance to the hospital for evaluation.

The body of the deceased climber will be recovered once conditions allow it.

Colorado’s notoriously fickle spring weather means there’s still a substantial risk for avalanches even this close to June.

“We’ve seen a lot of fresh snow in May this year, and that means we’re kind of moving back and forth between spring and winter avalanche conditions. ... The most dangerous conditions are probably going to be upper elevation where we still have some old, hard snow, and then, we’re getting this new snow on top of it. We have seen some accidents with cornice fall over the last few weeks, those are overhanging snow formations in really wind-exposed high elevation areas,” Colorado Avalanche Information Center Director Ethan Greene told 11 News sister station CBS Denver.

Experts advise anyone hiking in the mountains where the avalanche risk is somewhat high to bring equipment such as a beacon, probe and shovel.

Mt. Meeker is located within Rocky Mountain National Park. Not quite a 14er at 13,916 feet, it is nonetheless the second-highest mountain within the park, after Longs Peak.

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