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Stewart Green

Colorado Study Details Climbing Accidents, Injuries, and Fatalities

By July 7, 2012

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The Wilderness and Environmental Medical Journal just published a paper "Rock Climbing Rescues in Boulder County, Colorado and Eldorado Canyon State Park, Colorado, 1998 - 2011" that details statistics about rock climbing rescues and accidents over a 14-year period.

It's difficult to collect data on climbing incidents, accidents, injuries, and fatalities, with the best and most comprehensive studies and data available from the National Park Service. Several members of the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group (RMRG) in Boulder, Colorado, one of the most popular climbing cities in the United States, analyzed incident reports from the rescue group written from 1998 to 2011 to determine the most common causes of accidents and fatalities by recreational climbers.

The study details a lot of interesting statistics that provide lessons for climbers on skills to work on and aspects of climbing safety to consider to avoid becoming one of those statistics, a rescue victim, and a fatality.

  • From 1998 to 201, the RMRG rescued 2,198 mountain and wilderness victims in Boulder County. Rock climbing victims were 428 or 19.5% of all victims.
  • 78% of climbing victims were male (295) and 22% were female (83).
  • 46% of climbing victims (137) were between the ages of 20 and 29 years old. The next highest number of climbing victims (21%) were ages 10 to 19 (61).
  • Most climbing incidents occurred on weekends during spring, summer, and fall at 3:30 p.m. 37% of climbing incidents occurred in summer (June to August), while 29.5% occurred in autumn (September to November) and 23% occurred in spring (March to May).
  • 57% of climbing incidents occurred between noon and 6 p.m.
  • 58% of climbing victims were roped climbing.
  • 43% of climbing victims were unroped climbing.
  • 12% of climbing victims were involved in a belaying incident.
  • 4.5% of climbing victims were in a rockfall incident.
  • 43% of climbing victims were stranded or lost.
  • 29.5% of climbing victims had a lower extremity (legs, ankles, and feet) injury; the most common injury.
  • 5.5% of climbing victims were fatally injured; 23 victims (5 from lead falls and 9 from unroped falls).
  • 85% of climbing incidents occurred in the popular climbing areas--Eldorado Canyon, The Flatirons, and Boulder Canyon.

Since Eldorado Canyon State Park (ECSP) is the most popular climbing venue in Boulder County and also the scene of the majority of climbing incidents and accidents, the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group broke down the report on their website, specifically addressing Eldorado Canyon climbers. These are their talking points:

  • Belay accidents, such as losing control of the belay, lowering and rappelling off the end of the rope comprise 20% of all climbing accidents and are similar rates between Boulder County and ECSP.
  • ECSP has a higher instance of lost climbers, who request assistance in the later hours of the day (8pm - 1am), than other areas of Boulder County. Lack of knowledge of rappel anchors or downclimbs, and lack of preparation for nightfall are common reasons for this.
  • ECSP has a higher instance of climbers stuck on rappel, often due to ropes being caught in the structured terrain.
  • ECSP has a higher instance of lead climbing accidents and a much lower incidence of un-roped climbing accidents that the rest of Boulder County.
  • Climbing fatalities in ECSP result primarily from lead falls, lowering off ropes and rock fall. No fatalities from un-roped climbing were recorded during the study period.

To download the 10-page study and read it, go to the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group's website.

Photograph above: Mia Axon cranking on Dinosaur Mountain above Boulder, Colorado. Photograph © Stewart M. Green.

Read more about Climbing Safety:
10 Climbing Safety Tips
How to Avoid Loose Rock
What Can Go Wrong Rappelling
How to Toss Rappel Ropes
Use a Stopper Knot for Belaying and Rappelling


July 23, 2012 at 6:57 pm
(1) Calculator says:

58% of climbing victims were roped climbing
43% of climbing victims were unroped climbing


101% of climbing victims are climbing victims

October 25, 2013 at 11:04 pm
(2) Mark says:

None of these are surprising or useful. But they ask good questions. But some of these say nothing.

57% of climbing accidents occur between noon-6. Well that is a little over half of the accidents and just happens to be about half of the daylight. I would expect this.

78% of victums are male. I am wondering what the ratio of male to female climbers is. From my view, I see more males climbing than females. This number mask sense to me.

85% of climbing victums occurred in popular areas. Well of course they would. If most of the people go to these areas, naturally you would see more accidents there.

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