GIS data shows dangerous climbing patterns in Sangres


The Crestone Eagle • November 2021

by Karen Caddis

The tragic death of a climber (Madeline Barharlou-Quivey) on Kit Carson Peak in the Sangre de Cristo range last October makes the research project completed in July 2021 by Kim Jones Thomas, a recent graduate of Geographic Information from the ‘Emily Griffith Technical College. Systems Program (SIG), even more relevant. Using GIS data on climbing incidents, Ms. Jones Thomas, also an outdoor rock climber, discovered dangerous patterns in the Sangres that trip experienced climbers, resulting in at least 1 to 2 deaths each. year, especially in the Crestone group (which includes the 5 northernmost 14ers of the Sangres: the Crestone Needle, Kit Carson Mountain, Humboldt Peak, Challenger Point and Crestone Peak). In the Crestone Group alone, Custer County Search and Rescue (CCSAR) completed 41 rescue missions between 2015 and 2020, with 46% on Crestone Needle, 22% on Crestone Peak and 12% each on Kit Carson Mountain and Humboldt Peak.

Ms Jones Thomas found that most accidents happened on the descent when the climbers were tired and took a different route than they took to climb and, unlike last month’s death, most of the fatalities were from men walking alone. Many accidents have happened in the same places. Kim wrote: “Climbers can be so focused on pushing to the top that they don’t realize that when they reach the top they are only 50% there and still need to navigate the descent properly, have plans, equipment, a weather window and the energy to bring them down. Ms. Jones Thomas also noted that “we have seen people have accidents in the same place on several occasions”.

In an attempt to prevent more accidents, Ms. Jones Thomas presented the evidence as her university project in an interactive ArcGIS StoryMap microsite, “Rescue Patterns in the Crestones,” which she created in cooperation with CCSAR and with input from Saguache. County Search and Rescue. The StoryMap uses text, videos, photographs, graphics, and maps to create a narrative about rock climbing accidents and the resulting search and rescue missions in the Crestone Group, which hikers can refer to before. to climb. The StoryMap also includes graphics identifying several of the problematic routes and the correct routes climbers should take to follow the same path downhill as they did on the ascent. More details on the study and a link to the full report are available at:

“The idea is to keep (climbers) safe and on the road,” Ms. Jones Thomas said. “On the way down it looks like a path is easier, but it takes you off the standard route, which is not a descent, it involves more scrambling and technical climbing and the climbers are tired. But if you make a mistake and fall over 100 feet, it’s definitely fatal.

Ms Jones Thomas and CCSAR advise climbers to use GPS, download existing routes from trusted sites, carry an external battery charger with plenty of power, climb with a trusted partner, and understand their limitations . She notes in her report: “The mountain will be there, when weather windows or other setbacks / challenges hamper your planned day at the top. Be flexible and adjust / cancel your plans as needed! “

Visit for more information on climbing in the Sangres and consider getting a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card for $ 12 valid for 5 years to help support the search and rescue teams in the Colorado. CORSAR cards can be purchased from

“Reaching the top is optional. Getting off is mandatory. – Ed Viesturs


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