Love and Tragedy in the Mountains
On July 10th, 2019, Jim Hasse, my dad and climbing partner, died in a mountaineering accident on Maroon Peak in the Colorado Rockies only four days after he walked my sister down the aisle. She had just married my friend and brother-in-law Matt, who along with friends Paul and Rob, were on the mountain with him when he died. What follows is their account. He had a tremendous impact in the lives of countless people, as a mentor, a leader, a coach, and a friend. He will be sorely missed.
Love is a diverse word, usually used to describe a force of feeling toward others. Alpinists often use the word to describe the essential driving force that pushes them in pursuit of the mountains, a force to which all other aspects of life become subsidiary. These abstract forces are not unalike, they share the same passionate core which means in my life finding purpose in both love for others and love for the mountains are like water beneath snow and bedrock beneath scree, forever bound to each other.
On July 6th, I was lucky enough to be wed by ceremony together with my partner in life, Debra. Our families and friends came from all across the country to attend, and the smiles were equally broad both for our vows to each other and for the mountains in which we were celebrating our love.
I had wanted to taper leading up to this Colorado trip, but what’s the point of training if you can’t get out every chance you get to the mountains when we’re here. So the first week up in Summit County had been acclimation bike rides up Loveland Pass, and running around the famous Keystone backyard trails, and then more bike rides up Loveland and down to Copper, as my first time as a stoker on a tandem. So our wedding came, emotions were jovial, surrounded by love, happiness, and a shared appreciation of each other and the mountains.
I've had a plan to climb the Maroon Bells ever since Michael had told me the epic tale of his Maroon Bells traverse in 2010, all while being anemic. Conditions this 2019 Colorado summer have been exceedingly snowy (160% snowpack according to cousin Joe). My training has since been heavily inspired by turning around at Denali Pass in 2017 in combination with a diagnosis of diabetes, and consequently have been feeling the fittest since my days of varsity cross-country in high school. I had heard PK was also very fit from Michael's May CO trip and was psyched to hear he was seriously interested in doing some hard peaks. Of course, Jim was willing to do whatever seemed reasonable but had implied that he wanted me to do the trip planning. With consultation from Mike and his plethora of route spreadsheets, I thought the combination of snow climbing and the Maroon Bells Traverse was the perfect objective. Rob had also come from the east coast lowlands and was hoping to bag some 14ers and so we had the fellowship of four.
The weather forecasts for Tuesday and Wednesday were stellar. Clear skies, steady temps, and the promise of solid snow in the Bell Cord Couloir. Rob had just come up from the airport and was eager to get out, so Paul and Rob set out to climb Harvard and Columbia via Frenchman Creek. Rapid acclimation for Rob was less than successful, but that didn’t stop our fellowship from adjusting to 2 independent pairs. So we packed up and loaded out headed to the Maroon Bells.
Arriving at the park entrance about 2 hours later than expected having gone over the wrong pass and delayed near Fairplay (but had some fun by driving over Weston Pass), we paid our entrance fees ($10 for 2 nights) and prepped for the short backpack to Crater Lake, only about 2 miles and 500’ higher than the overnight lot.
Rob wasn’t feeling up for the climbing and so Paul was ready to join Jim and me. And the fellowship was three. We got up at 0100 and shoveled our cold breakfasts’ down and got going at 0142H.
We made some navigational errors and ascended upwards too early in the day, which caused us to find the west face of north maroon peak. Cliffed out by a waterfall and steep rock, we descended back to the bergschrund to reassess our options and route.
We found that we could walk through the shrund out to the slopes, and we found the Couloir. Thankfully only a 4 hour side adventure.
Finally we reached the top of the couloir around 1230H.
We summited close to 1320H and it was sweet. The views of passes, peaks, and wilderness abound with snow in July nonetheless.
So Jim and I decided that it was clear I wasn’t ready for the whole 0.4mi traverse back over to North Maroon Peak and that we’d head back down the south ridge of Maroon Peak with Paul.
We were looking for snowfields to glissade to save our knees and we found them near the end of the ridge where our GPS track turns downhill into the east Maroon Peak bowls.
The accident occurred close to 1900H. I sent the SOS at 1902H. Paul coordinated the effort and Rob was on the other end of the radio.
Jim was glissading and attempted a self arrest. For an unknown reason, he missed the arrest and became inverted, sliding headfirst downhill. A few seconds and 250 vertical feet later he impacted a rock band with his head and fell in to a moat between the snowfield and the rock band. We called for him and heard no response via voice or radio. Paul and I immediately followed his track, moving as fast as possible without causing a second accident.
I reached Jim at 1914H and assessed for responsiveness and vital signs. He was unresponsive to verbal and pain stimuli, and had no respirations or pulse. Paul reached us at 1920H, confirmed my observations, and continued the assessment.
We decided to get Jim out of the moat and onto the flattest surface around. It took 20min. Somewhere in that process, we reached Rob via radio. Paul conveyed the situation to Rob (an Emergency Medicine Physician), indicated that we were going to attempt CPR. He also asked Rob to run to the ranger station for assistance, since communicating over the Inreach while attempting to move Jim has been nearly impossible. Rob provided some guidance for assessment and resuscitation, and then ran for help.
We began CPR at 1941H and continued for approximately 45min until the Sheriff’s Department, through Rob, instructed us to stop efforts. We said our farewells and descended into the night.
We met up with Mountain Rescue Aspen at approximately 2330H, physically exhausted, mentally exhausted, and dehydrated. We were glad to hand over decision making to the team, and even more relieved to see the Gatorade that they brought with them. We made it to the parking lot close to 0135H the following day safely, our lives forever changed.
Love is a passion, a lifestyle, and a cornerstone to being human. I will strive to live with everyday with Love large enough to fill the bigness of the boots my new father, mentor, and guide to life have left behind for me in a new life. Your presence is felt everywhere with many people, and you will not be forgotten.
May Jim Rest in Peace forever in the mountains. We’ll meet again someday.
Throughout the ordeal, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department, Mountain Rescue Aspen, and the Pitkin County Coroner were consummate professionals. They have our deepest thanks.
It’s hard to say what caused the accident. Jim was extremely experienced, with almost 50 years spent in the mountains. The snow slope was steep, narrow, and fairly soft; however, Paul and Jim and glissaded similar slopes many times in the past with no issues. We were all physically fatigued when we began the descent. We had proper experience, proper equipment, and had traveled much more difficult terrain earlier in the day. Matt and Paul responded as quickly as possible. Matt was a WFR, Paul a former EMT and Combat Life Saver, and Rob the Emergency Medicine Physician was on the other end of the radio. The Coroner indicated that Jim died instantly, before he even knew that he hit the rock.