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Everest Climber Fatality on Mount Wilson Fourteener in Colorado

August 24 2004 at 12:25 AM
roger  (Login dipper)

Response to August 2004 Accidents/Rescues


Steven Vasel was a passionate mountain climber, and every time he reached the summit he did a "Rocky"-style victory dance.

Vasel, 34, a 1987 graduate of Coon Rapids High School, danced on some of the world's most majestic peaks. He conquered Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mount Alburtis in Russia. And he had his sights on the biggest challenge of all: making it to the top of Mount Everest, a feat achieved by only a few thousand people.

Vasel's dream of reaching the summit of the world's tallest mountain ended Aug. 15. He was making a training climb on Colorado's Mount Wilson and was descending from the 14,246-foot peak when he slipped. He fell 500 to 800 feet down a steep snowfield onto a rock and scree field below, according to the San Miguel County Sheriff's Office.

Steven VaselProvided By Margie OeltjenbrunsVasel's climbing partner, who is a physician, was a few feet ahead of him when she saw him fall. She reached him several minutes later and pronounced him dead at the scene. She hiked down the mountain and reported the accident to authorities, the sheriff said.

Vasel's body was recovered the next day. The San Miguel County medical examiner ruled the cause of death as traumatic head injury.

The accident happened on a mountain that locals describe as treacherous, with sharp loose rocks, steep peaks and snowfields that remain throughout the summer.

Click to see full mapIt was not clear whether Vasel or his partner were using ropes, the sheriff's office said.

Vasel, who lived in suburban Washington, D.C., began mountain hiking after taking a high school field trip to the western United States. His love for mountain climbing never waned, said his mother, Margie Oeltjenbruns.

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