Elk Mountains deaths, educating climbers topic of Pitkin County, forest service meeting

Early ideas on how to get the word out about the dangers of climbing peaks in the Elk Mountains include posting links on a popular website, concentrating educational efforts on the Front Range and installing “in-your-face” type signs at trailheads.

That’s according to officials who attended a meeting Thursday that included the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Forest Service, Mountain Rescue Aspen and professional mountain guides.

“Everybody agreed that we can do a better job educating people and getting the message out there,” Karen Schroyer, district ranger for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, said Friday. “We’re figuring out the best ways of getting that out.”

The meeting was held to figure out what, if anything, can be done to prevent future deaths on the 14,000-foot-plus peaks in the Elk Mountain Range around Aspen, which are all difficult, treacherous and not for the inexperienced climber.

Six people have died on the area’s big mountains this summer, including five people on Capitol Peak and one person on North Maroon Peak. Two others died in the Elk Mountains backcountry while hiking.

“We want to get some real frank talk out there about what it’s like to climb these peaks and what they can expect,” Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said. “These are not hikes. These are climbs.”

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One idea is to engage the administrators of the popular 14ers.com website, which offers a bulletin board for climbers to post messages, as well as detailed route descriptions, photos and other information about the state’s 54 14,000-foot-plus peaks, DiSalvo said.

Local officials think posting links to Mountain Rescue Aspen, which would feature that “frank talk” about the dangers of climbing Elk Mountain Range peaks and the experience necessary to tackle them, could improve the situation, he said. It might even include a link to a professional guiding service that could lead people without the requisite experience…

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