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A 67-year-old climber, Andrew Whiteside of Lutherville-Timonium, Maryland, died after an accident in Colorado National Monument on Saturday, April 30. Whiteside was leading the first pitch of Otto’s Route (5.8+), a historic 400-foot line that ascends the freestanding tower Independence Monument.
Otto’s Route, bolted by John Otto on the Fourth of July, 1911, is one of the most famous routes in the park, and Mesa County’s Technical Rescue Team climbs the route annually on July 4th, planting an American flag on top, a tradition that stretches back over 20 years.
The initial pitch, which Whiteside was leading, angles right up a 5.4 ramp to a large ledge leading into a crack system and goes overall at 5.5, according to Mountain Project. Whiteside was climbing out of sight of his two partners when he fell approximately 30 feet, landing on a ledge halfway up the pitch. Rescuers from Colorado National Monument, Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, Mesa County Search and Rescue, and Lower Valley Fire District responded, but by the time they arrived on the scene Whiteside was already deceased.
A May 9th press release from the National Monument announced that the Mesa County Coroner’s Office confirmed Whiteside’s cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries. He was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.
Colorado National Monument Chief Ranger Janet Kelleher told Climbing that there was no indication that Whiteside’s gear pulled loose during the fall, indicating that instead he simply had fallen after running it out a bit too far. “Mr. Whiteside was roped in and there is no reason to suspect equipment failure,” she said. “His rope was clipped into the last piece of gear he placed, and that piece was secure at the time of the fall.”