Aspenite’s fatal fall came on heavily used route up glacier
ASPEN, Colorado “-Aspen, Colorado climbing guide Travis Lizotte and three students were crossing an ice bridge that is regularly used ” and was successfully crossed by another team minutes earlier ” when disaster struck on a peak in Argentina on Sunday, according to an Outward Bound official.
Whitney Montgomery, executive director of North Carolina Outward Bound School, said Lizotte was leading the second of three teams from the school on a climb up a glacier on Mount Tronador. The groups left a base camp at about 7,260 feet in elevation early that morning and were headed up the 11,411-foot peak but weren’t necessarily trying to reach the summit, Montgomery said. About 30 minutes into the hike, the teams had to cross a crevasse on an ice bridge. Team members were roped together.
“Team One successfully crossed the crevasse,” Montgomery said.
Lizotte, 25, an Aspen native, was leading the second team of three students when the bridge collapsed. The third team, with an instructor and four students, was waiting to cross the ice bridge
Montgomery said his information came from Outward Bound officials who were in Bariloche and interviewed the other instructors and additional witnesses to the accident.
Montgomery said he didn’t know the dimensions of the ice bridge. As of Tuesday afternoon, he wasn’t able to determine yet if part or all of Lizotte’s team was on the bridge when it collapsed, or if some members were on the bridge and others were pulled down. They plunged at least 66 feet into the crevasse.
The other instructors initiated the rescue and pulled all four team members from the crevasse, according to Montgomery. One of the instructors also used a satellite phone to contact an Outward Bound program director in Bariloche, and that person contacted a search-and-rescue party.
The Outward Bound crew performed CPR on Lizotte until they handed over medical efforts to the search-and-rescue team, which included a doctor and a paramedic. Montgomery said he didn’t know Tuesday if Lizotte died immediately from his injuries.
“I’m not able to confirm that. That will come out as we continue the investigation,” he said.
It was also unknown what type of injuries Lizotte suffered.
All three students with Lizotte were from the U.S. One suffered a broken arm, one suffered more extensive injuries but is recovering and one escaped injury. Montgomery confirmed the student who escaped injury fell into the crevasse, but he didn’t have details yet on how that person avoided injury.
Montgomery declined comment on whether Outward Bound considers the incident a freak accident or unlucky timing.
“It’s a route we’ve used for a number of years,” he said.
Lizotte was a 2002 graduate of Aspen High School. He was well known among schoolmates and teachers for his passion for the outdoors. After graduating from the University of Puget Sound, he started guiding for Outward Bound, a nationally-renowned program, in 2006. Jeff Lizotte said working as an Outward Bound guide was the dream job for his son.
In his latest assignment, Travis was an instructor in the Patagonia phase of a special 72-day program offered through the North Carolina Outward Bound School. The students in the program were between ages 18 and 23, Montgomery said. They had spent 25 days mountaineering in Patagonia when the accident happened. That part of the course was going to end in another week, and then the students were destined to spend time in the Everglades and mountains in North Carolina.
The teams were prepared for technical mountaineering on Mount Tronador, Montgomery said. They were equipped with helmets, ice axes and crampons.
“The day before the summit attempt, the staff that included Travis was able to scout (the route) out,” Montgomery said.
Lizotte, like the other instructors, had extensive training in wilderness medical treatment and survival skills, and they all had various certifications of their proficiency in those skills. The students also had training in travel on glaciers before the expedition on Mount Tronador was attempted, according to Montgomery.
While the investigation by Outward Bound officials is ongoing, the organization is focused on the physical and emotional well-being of the students who were injured, and of the entire crew in the program, Montgomery said. The entire organization is saddened by the tragedy, he said.
Montgomery is among the Outward Bound officials coming to Aspen to attend a memorial service for Travis. Jeff Lizotte said the service would be at noon Saturday at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, a special place for Travis.