Watch CBS News

Legendary Colorado climber Gerry Roach injured in 13er climb

Expert hiker rushed to ICU after falling down mountain
Expert hiker rushed to ICU after falling down mountain 03:26

The man who wrote the book on climbing Colorado's 14ers and many other popular mountaineering guides and stories is in a hospital in Durango after a climbing accident last week.

Gerry Roach is at Centura-Mercy Hospital in Durango after a 100 foot fall on an unnamed 13,200 foot peak about a dozen miles west of Silverton in San Juan County. His wife Jennifer Roach, also a noted climber and writer, posts that the 79-year-old's prognosis is good.

The fall happened at about 8 p.m. Wednesday night where he bounced down a steep slope on the scree-covered mountain where footing was loose.

"One second I was climbing down under control. The next second I was flying through the air," said Roach in an interview with CBS Colorado from his hospital room at Centura-Mercy. "Crashed about five times and a I hit my head most of those times. I finally decided, I've got to stop. So I threw my arms out and I managed to stop."

His wife saw it all.

"It was sort of like throwing a rag doll down a very, very steep slope," said Jennifer Roach.

The image is hard to shake.

"That's on instant replay in my head a lot. I wasn't sure what I was going to find when I got there."

He suffered five broken ribs, a broken nose, collapsed right lung, head and face lacerations and contusions and a concussion.

The Silverton Medical Rescue Team arrived in the deep of night and sent a team of runners up the foot mountain to Roach. They made it in about 100 minutes to an eastern ridge of the mountain at about 13,000 feet. A Flight for Life helicopter flew overhead and spotted them in the dark from Jennifer's Roach's light.


Posted by Silverton Medical Rescue on Friday, August 11, 2023

"So we were able to see her pretty far away with our night vision goggles," said flight nurse Jackson Maygar. "We did several orbits to try to assess how close we could get to them where we might be able to land... But ultimately there was nothing we could do safely."

Some of the search and rescue people stayed with him through the night.

"Some of our Search and Rescue team knew exactly who Gerry was and they had read all of his books," said Silverton Medical Rescue's DeAnne Gallegos in an email. "They spent the night with him  on that mountain side to keep him stable and alive."

"The first half of the night I was freezing was violently shaking," said Roach.

"When they arrived. They had warm stuff, and they got me warm. They had a big pad that they blew them up." That helped get him off the hard rocks.

Rescuers contacted the Colorado Army National Guard High Altitude Training Center (HAATS) and requested the Colorado Hoist Team. They would use a Black Hawk helicopter after daylight to lift Roach off the mountain. Flight for Life waited at lower altitude to transfer him to the hospital in Durango.

The Silverton Medical Rescue Group posted, "This was an incredibly complex mission that utilized 2 helicopters, took 18 hours to complete, had 16 members from Silverton Medical Rescue, 6 members from La Plata Search & Rescue, a deputy sheriff and the Undersheriff from the San Juan County Sheriff's office, 2 Colorado Search and Rescue Association State SAR Coordinators, National Guard Coordinator, the Airforce Rescue Coordination Center and our regional 911 dispatch services."

Strapped into a basket, Roach was quickly hauled up into the Black Hawk.

"The only thing I could see, or hear was the rotors," said Roach.

They put down a little under 12,000 feet and transferred Roach to another Flight for Life helicopter.

"He was awake and talking the whole time. So that's always a great sign," said flight nurse Paige Kramer. 

Pilot Jim Jackson was yet to learn of the history of Gerry Roach.

"I'm like this guy, 79 still climbing mountains. That's incredible," he said. "Wow, this guy's in pretty good shape."

Roach still climbs hundreds of mountains a year. It started in the 1950s in Boulder when he and a friend took on the Flatirons.

"The first few times it was lucky we didn't kill ourselves. The only thing we knew about climbing is what we saw in the cartoons."

He soon got training. But through the years Roach took on challenges like Everest, which he did in 1983 before there were fixed ropes. He was the second to climb the "Seven summits" the summits of all seven continents. Through the years, his books on climbing Colorado 14ers were relied upon by people doing walk-ups as well as climbers doing technical routes. Thankful for the help and recovering in the hospital, Gerry Roach and his wife plan to continue climbing.

"I'll get back in there," Gerry Roach said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.