Tuesday, Oct 28, 2008
Rangers were notified of a climbing accident on the Stoned Oven route (rated 5.11+, between difficult and very difficult) around mid-afternoon on Monday, October 20th. Michael Walsh, 30, who was roped and wearing a climbing helmet, had fallen 30 to 40 feet while leading the fourth pitch of the route several hours earlier, sustaining life-threatening injuries. Walsh was lowered to the base of the climb by his partners, who then ascended 1,700 feet to the rim of the canyon via Cruise Gully to seek assistance. A hasty team responded immediately, descending down the gully, which has sections of technical terrain and requires about 250 feet of rappelling. Although their response time was slowed slightly by rain, they reached Walsh just after 5 p.m. Due to the nature of Walshâs injuries, the park SAR team, assisted by members of Western State SAR, began a rescue operation despite the approaching darkness. A park SAR team member was lowered from the rim to the canyon floor in the area of the Hallucinogen Wall route (rated 5.10, A3+). A litter carry was made from the base of the Stoned Oven route to the haul lines, and Walsh and a rescuer were then hauled 1,500 vertical feet to the canyon rim, arriving there around 11 p.m.. Walsh was then flown to a hospital via air ambulance, where he is doing well but may undergo surgery to repair a broken pelvis . The entire rescue operation took less than nine hours from the time of first notification to its conclusion. The ability of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP to conduct complex rescue operations with this degree of efficiency and professionalism is largely due to a dedicated group of SAR volunteers who donate hundreds of man/hours training at the park each season.