VAIL, Colorado - A 34-year-old man from Alma, Colo., fell about 100 feet Tuesday afternoon while ice-climbing The Fang, an ice formation in East Vail, Colorado, rescue crews said.
Crews from the Vail Fire Department, Eagle County Sheriff's Office, Vail Mountain Rescue and the Eagle County Ambulance District responded to a call at 1:14 p.m. reporting the fall. It took crews about 45 minutes to snowmobile and hike into the area where the victim had fallen, and about another 45 minutes to get him out.
The Fang is part of the popular ice-climbing area known as The Amphitheater, but The Fang formation doesn't form every year.
Doug Krause, of the Ambulance District, said the ice did not crush the man, but "he is hurt." Denise Triba, spokeswoman for the Vail Valley Medical Center, said the man, who name has not been released, was in serious condition at the Vail Valley Medical Center.
Alan Bosworth, an engineer with the Vail Fire Department, said a portion of The Fang broke loose with the climber on it, sending him plummeting down about 100 feet, the equivalent of a 10-story fall.
The neighboring formation, known as The Designator, is where crews rescued a man last winter who fell about 70 feet and survived, Bosworth said.
The Eagle County Sheriff's Office reported that two friends were climbing with the man. At least one of those climbers rode in the ambulance to the hospital with the victim, while four more ice-climbers were at the rescue scene, visibly shaken. None of the four climbers wanted to make any comment on the incident.
One climber did say that about six climbers were in the area when the accident happened. Eagle County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Bob Silva said two other climbers who were climbing the neighboring ice feature came over to help when the accident happened, one of whom happened to be a certified emergency medical technician.
Scott Smith, owner of the Apex Mountain School, a Vail Valley-based rock and ice-climbing school and guide service, was guiding an ice-climbing trip in East Vail this morning and said the weather wasn't particularly warm or cold.
Warmer temperatures can cause ice to melt, but it wasn't so warm Tuesday that Smith was concerned about ice melting.
Colder temperatures affect the ice in a different way, Smith said.
"When it's colder the ice doesn't displace as much (when you place an ice ax or crampons into it) and it tends to shatter more," Smith said. "However, it was not unusually cold today."
Smith said he has not climbed The Fang this winter and guesses not many people, if any, have climbed it this winter before Tuesday. The formation has only recently filled in to the point where someone might consider leading it, meaning they're climbing it from the ground up, Smith said.
"We do not guide The Fang in its current condition," Smith said. "Getting on a relatively narrow pillar is not appropriate for the level of safety we demand for our clients."
The Fang, unlike some other formations in the area, forms as a free-standing pillar. Ice that forms thick over a cliff face or section of rock is generally more stable, Smith said, whereas The Fang was thinner.
Ice climbers are a tight-knit community, Smith said, which is why he and his guiding staff were hoping for a full recovery for the injured climber.
"We're very concerned about the person who fell," Smith said.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.