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Kirk Couloir Memories – I Think I’m Gonna Be Sick

21 August 2006

By a fluke of the Web, I just happened upon the tragedy of Douglas Beach, a firefighter from Cheyenne, WY, who died on June 11th of this year after falling on an ill-advised descent of the Kirk Couloir, which drops from the saddle between Challenger Point and Kit Carson Mountain on the north side of that connecting ridge.

On June 25th, 2002, I took that very same, ill-advised descent route to avoid having to return over the top of Challenger Point to my camp at Willow Lake. I knew when I got down to the snowfield fingers that poke up through the rocky bluffs that I had made a terrible, terrible mistake; my ice axe was back in the pickup at the Crestone trailhead. But once I had committed, I had to see it through, and it was terrifying. By the time I lost my footing, I was – thank God – over the part of the big snowfield to the west that just ran out into the rocks, rather uneventfully. My attempt at arresting my slide was laughable – a silly little nickel-plated latrine shovel or garden trowel.

Douglas and his five children and his wife paid for his mistake with his life. I walked away with ice burns on my forearms, knees that knocked for the next 48 hours, and a severely chastened spirit for almost having left my three boys fatherless.

To whoever found my North Face shell halfway up that snowfield back in ’02: keep it. I never want to see it again.


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