Climbing partner says knot may have prevented death

Woman fell 1,300 feet off mountain in Alaska Range

Posted: Monday, April 30, 2007

FAIRBANKS - A safety knot might have prevented the death of a woman rappelling down a mountain in Denali National Park and Preserve, her climbing partner said.

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Lara-Karena Kellogg, 38, of Seattle, fell to her death Monday on Mount Wake, an 8,130-foot peak in the Alaska Range.

Her body was found without ropes attached to the safety harness. Her gear, including crampons, was intact and undamaged, except for the helmet, which was lost during the fall, according to mountaineering rangers.

Her climbing partner, Jed Kallen-Brown, 23, was above Kellogg and out of her sight. He said he heard a scream, then the sound of a person falling. It's likely one of two things caused her to fall, he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

"I think the most likely scenario is she was looking for gear, didn't realize how close to the end of the rope she was, and it just slipped through her hand," said Kallen-Brown, who met Kellogg more than a year ago and had climbed with her in California's Yosemite Park.

"The other possible scenario is that she knew she was close to the end of the rope, intended to only let a small amount of rope through, and due to the slippery belay rope combination, more rope than intended went through the device, and she went off the end of the rope that way," Kallen-Brown said.

Kellogg had 15 years experience climbing and had taken on mountains in the Alaska Range before. She was rappelling on a single strand and was setting protective devices for Kallen-Brown to belay him down to her.

A safety knot at the end of the rope would have prevented her 1,300-foot fall, Kallen-Brown said.

Tying such a knot is recommended in climbing manuals but experienced climbers often skip them, Kallen-Brown said, because tying them is time-consuming and they can become lodged in rock cracks.

The accident occurred in a steep, rocky section of the peak in he Great Gorge area of the Ruth Glacier about 15 miles southeast of Mount McKinley. The pair set out on a day climb about 5 a.m. Monday and had been climbing mixed ice, snow and rock for more than 13 hours.

They had ascended about 3,500 feet before turning back 1,400 feet shy of the summit due to unstable snow conditions and a large, mushroom-shaped snow obstacle, Kallen-Brown said. Their route of travel, the mountain's Northeast Ridge, had been successfully taken to the summit just once, he said.

Kallen-Brown climbed down for 50 minutes to reach Kellogg's body at the bottom of a steep gully and confirm her death. Another climbing party helped him carry the body back to a campsite in Ruth Gorge. Park officials flew the body to Talkeetna about 50 miles south.

Kallen-Brown was visibly affected discussing the accident.

"It's really a kind of a shocking and raw experience," he said. "As much as you play the scenarios through your head, it's completely different when it actually happens and I don't think you can actually be prepared for it."

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