Climber’s body found near Capitol Peak

by Dorothy Atkins, Special to the Aspen Daily News

Two Mountain Rescue Aspen members were injured during climber’s recovery mission


Two Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteers were hospitalized after being injured in the field while they were recovering the body of Jim Nelson from Salt Lake City near Capitol Peak on Wednesday.

A team of two MRA members went into the field via helicopter above Moon Lake at an elevation of about 11,000 feet. As they were attempting to reach the body, a climber above them set off a rockslide and triggered several rocks the size of trash cans to tumble down onto the MRA members, according to Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy Alex Burchetta.

The civilian also sustained lower leg injuries, and along with one MRA member who had a shoulder injury, was transported to the hospital via helicopter. The other MRA team member who had minor injuries retrieved the body, and then flew back to the Aspen airport where an ambulance was waiting to take the volunteer to the hospital. All three sustained orthopedic injuries that are not serious, Burchetta said.

At 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, a family member of the deceased contacted the sheriff’s office to report that a 53-year-old man from Salt Lake City had not returned home as scheduled and he didn’t show up to work on Tuesday. Nelson's car was located late Tuesday night at the trailhead to Capitol Peak.

On Wednesday morning, a search team from MRA and the Colorado National Guard’s High Altitude Aviation Training Site (HAATS) searched the area surrounding Capitol Peak. At 11:30 a.m., the team located what they believed to be the body of a man located in the Mount Daly basin. The search team was able to land nearby and identified the body as that of Nelson's.

Jeff Edelson, president of MRA, said it was the first time this year that MRA volunteers have been injured during a rescue. The nature of the work is dangerous, so volunteers can get hurt on the job, he said. Edelson added that it’s important people are prepared when venturing into the backcountry. 

“Make sure if you’re climbing in the backcountry that somebody knows the route you’re going to take,” he said. “Climb with a partner and stay on the established routes.”

The recovery couldn’t have happened without the help of HAATS, Edelson added.

Nelson was described as an experienced climber and outdoor enthusiast. Details about what caused his death or where exactly he was found have not been released.

Capitol Peak is 14,131 feet high and the 32nd highest mountain in the United States. It’s located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area. It’s the first death on a 14,000-foot mountain recorded in Pitkin County this year and at least the fifth in the state.

(Carolyn Sackariason contributed to this report).

dorothy@aspendailynews.com