A week ago, I was showing a couple of talented college students how to rappel. Neither had ever done it despite being good climbers.
We were at the top of a new rock climbing cliff along the Blackfoot River Canyon and rappelling seemed to be the best way down.
I remember telling them, “Rappelling is easy and fun but probably the most dangerous thing climbers do.” I told them that there is no margin for error. Mistakes tend to end catastrophically bad.
Then looking on Facebook the next day, I read how a long-time climbing friend died in an accident coming down Granite Peak in Montana with his father and two brothers. He had set up a rappel anchored to a large block, but the car-sized block rolled down on top of him. A brother who was rappelling at the time, fell about 15 feet and was injured. A search and rescue helicopter removed the climbers from the mountain.
I remember looking through an old issue of “Accidents in North America Climbing” and reading a comment from one of its editors about how that particular year (and most years) more incidents occurred when climbers were coming down a mountain than when going up. Most involved rappelling.
My friend Kevin Hansen, a graduate of Idaho Falls High School, was climbing the peak with his father and two brothers. The accident was one of those things that would have been nearly impossible to foresee, like a large truck suddenly swerving into oncoming traffic and hitting you head on.
I remember Hansen as a kind soul, loving life and lifting those around him with his sense of humor and impish antics. He was described as a fun-loving Hobbit. Poor guy wasn’t any taller than me. He had moved to the Twin Falls area after college to teach high school seminary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More recently, he was living in Melba south of Nampa. Sadly, he leaves behind a wife and four younger children.
I only climbed with him a few times in the gym and at local crags. His main climbing love was big alpine projects and ice climbing. He often wanted to climb the hardest line on a peak. He always talked of climbing Denali Peak in Alaska. This was the year to get it done. He and another friend of mine were pounding the gym and gathering gear for the expedition. Then the pandemic hit and his Denali plans were put on hold. This summer he stuck to the nearby Rocky Mountains.
Granite Peak is Montana’s tallest point. It sits about 10 miles north of Cooke City, Montana, above the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park. It has the reputation of being a bit harder than Idaho’s Borah Peak with some technical routes.
As I look at Facebook comments from friends and see old and recent photos of Hansen, it’s a heartbreaker. But maybe we’ll meet up in the hereafter and tie into a rope again, if that’s something that still interests us.
In the meantime, be safe out there, especially when rappelling.