A Superior man dies a week after a climbing fall in Eldorado Canyon

By Heath Urie of  the Daily Camera, Boulder CO Saturday, July 19, 2008

A 47-year-old Superior man — who was critically injured one week ago after falling 50 feet while climbing in Eldorado Canyon State Park — died Friday just after friends and family gathered at his Denver hospital room to say their final goodbyes.

Preston Brennan landed on a jagged rock and was airlifted July 13 to St. Anthony’s Central Hospital in Denver.

On Saturday, Brennan’s ex-wife, Cheryl Claman-Brennan, said the father of three — ages 8, 11 and 14 — died from injuries to his head.

“He had a warm heart; almost a child-like love and trust of people,” she said. “He was very meticulous and very safe. It was just a freak accident.”Claman-Brennan said she had a last chance to see her ex-husband, time she spent reading letters from his children and saying a prayer.

The family is planning a celebration of Brennan’s life in two weeks and possibly to dedicate a memorial bench to him in Eldorado Canyon — one of his favorite places to go.

Brennan was born in Chicago and moved from Los Angeles to Boulder in 1991, and more recently to a house in Superior, his ex-wife said. The couple married in 1990 and divorced one month ago.

Brennan worked in construction most of his life, and recently began working for the Golden-based Solar Power Inc. He was the youngest of four siblings.

Brennan’s father died about 20 years ago in a fall down an elevator shaft, according to Claman-Brennan.

Brennan’s family said he was an organ donor, and they hope his memory will live on through helping others in need of tissue and organ transplants.On Friday, Todd Ritter, of Lafayette, went to the hospital to see his friend and climbing partner of more than a decade, for what he suspected would be the last time.

“It was a benefit to me, and probably to a lot of other people, to have the chance to say goodbye to him,” Ritter said. “He’s just a wonderful, special human being, and the kind of person that you tend to be honored to know. He certainly touched a lot of people’s lives.”

Ritter said that Brennan was well known for his love of hockey, mountain biking and climbing.

“He did a lot of things, but I think climbing kind of transcends being just another activity — it’s a lifestyle,” he said. “It was something he certainly loved.”Ritter said his longtime friend was a safe climber, who was out enjoying the activity with his girlfriend when he fell.  “If you asked me to list 100 people I thought might have an accident like this, with a ground fall and things going awry, Preston would not be on that list,” he said. “He was a very cautious, very careful climber. I’ve climbed with him enough to know it’s shocking this would happen.”

Brennan was airlifted to Denver with head injuries after rescuers found him at 6:50 p.m., unresponsive and with head lacerations near a climbing route one-tenth of a mile into the park.

The sheriff’s office received a report that a man had been climbing about 50 feet up a rock face when he suddenly fell, and Rocky Mountain Fire Authority, Rocky Mountain Rescue Group and park rangers helped in the search and rescue.Brennan had climbing equipment when he was found, and he was wearing safety gear, said sheriff’s Cmdr. Phil West.

Rachelle Mahoney, 33, of Longmont, was climbing with her boyfriend and her friend Liz Halworth on the Wind Tower — located across a creek from where Brennan was climbing along the Werk Supp route on the Bastille rock formation — and was one of the first people to reach his side and render medical aid while awaiting rescuers.

“Liz saw this guy and said, ‘Oh my god, that guy’s taking a huge fall,” Mahoney said. “I looked over to see him not catch. You’re used to see people take a fall in the canyon but catch (before hitting the ground). We ran down the trail as fast as we could.”

Mahoney, who has been trained in emergency medical aid as part of her job, kept Brennan’s airway open and administered CRP.

“He stopped breathing about three times and we got him going again.” she said. “It was a very tough thing to see as a climber.”

Later, Mahoney said she realized she had met Brennan just a few days before the accident, when he came in to the medical office she works at. She said he spoke to her then about climbing in Eldorado Canyon, and his children.

“I had just met him June 26,” she said. “I just didn’t recognize him at the time. His kids are the same age as mine. It’s so ironic.”

Mahoney’s boyfriend, 34-year-old Brian Sorden, of Longmont, was the first to reach Brennan after the fall.

“His body was face-down, completely slumped over jagged rocks at the base of the climb,” Sorden said. “I picked him up and carefully put him on the ground.”

A group of passers-by, including another climber and a couple out taking pictures, ran to get help and provided a first-aid kit, he said.

Sorden said he relates to the horrific accident, after he took a similar fall in 2001, tumbling 60 feet and breaking his back.

“Anybody getting hurt like this really affects me,” he said. “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

A final report on the accident is being compiled by the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, but Sorden said he thinks Brennan did, “everything he could.”

 “He was climbing safely,” Sorden said.

The route Brennan took — rated 5.9 in difficulty — starts directly off the dirt road that heads west into the canyon and is known for its flaky rock, which can flex when a climber pulls on it.  




Climber airlifted after 50-foot fall at Eldorado Canyon


 By Heath Urie of the Daily Camera, Boulder CO

Originally published 12:18 p.m., July 22, 2008 

A male climber who earlier today fell 50 to 60 feet from the Bastille rock formation in Eldorado Canyon State Park has been airlifted to a Denver hospital with critical injuries, according to Boulder County sheriff’s deputies at the scene.

The climber, whose name and age have not been released, was not wearing a helmet, according to dispatchers, and was found at the base of the formation at about 12:10 p.m.

The man, who was solo-climbing — without the use of safety gear — sustained serious injuries to his head, chest and leg, deputies said.

According to witnesses at the scene of the accident, the man fell at nearly the same location as 47-year-old Preston Brennan, a Superior man who fell 50 feet from the formation on July 13.

A sheriff’s seargeant at the scene confirmed the man fell in almost the same spot

as Brennan.

Brennan was wearing a helmet, but died from injuries to his head on Friday.Despite the proximity of the accidents, which happened just 10 days apart, there are no plans to close the popular climbing route, said Deb Frazier, spokeswoman for Colorado State Parks.

“Many people climb there every year without accidents, and we express our condolences to the families of these two climbers, but there’s no plan to close the route,” she said.

Frazier confirmed the climber who was injured today was using the Werk Supp climbing route — the same route taken by Brennan when he fell last week. 

Climber critical after fall in Eldorado Canyon

By Zak Brown  and Heath Urie of the Boulder Daily Camera

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


The sister and girlfriend of a man who suffered fatal injuries in a fall at Eldorado Canyon State Park earlier this month were mourning his death at the accident site Tuesday when another man fell 50 to 60 feet in nearly the same spot.


The two women were beneath the Werk Supp climbing route Tuesday to mourn the death of 47-year-old Preston Brennan, of Superior, who fell July 13. Soon after they arrived, a man fell from the Bastille rock formation and was then airlifted to Denver’s St. Anthony Central Hospital with critical injuries.


Brennan, who was wearing a helmet, fell 50 feet from the formation. He died Friday as a result of the injuries. A sheriff’s sergeant at the scene confirmed the man fell Tuesday in almost the same spot as Brennan.


According to Brennan’s sister-in-law Caren Claman, Brennan’s girlfriend said she couldn’t watch the man climbing Tuesday and turned away. Before his sister could turn away, she watched the climber re-enact her brother’s fatal fall. He landed close to where the women were standing.


“They were just going up there because Margot woke up and decided she wanted to see where her brother fell,” Claman said. “Who would think they would go through it again? Our heart certainly goes out to the man’s family, wherever they are.”


Claman said the two women were upset and in shock from “living it all over again.” They did not want to be identified or interviewed for the story.


The name and age of the climber who fell Tuesday have not been released. He was not wearing a helmet, according to the Sheriff’s Office. He was found at the base of the formation at about 12:10 p.m.


Deputies said the man was climbing without safety gear and sustained serious injuries to his head, chest and leg just 10 days after Brennan fell there.


The climb is rated 5.8 or 5.9 by several climbing Web sites and books.


Despite the proximity of the accidents, there are no plans to close the popular climbing route, said Deb Frazier, spokeswoman for Colorado State Parks.


Solo climber is 30-year veteran of the sport 

By Heath Urie of the Boulder Daily Camera

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An Oklahoma man remained in “very critical” condition Wednesday, one day after he fell 50 feet while solo climbing without a rope or safety equipment in Eldorado Canyon State Park. 

The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday identified the climber as Michael Hankins, 47, of Edmond, Okla. 

Hankins fell about 50 feet while climbing the Bastille rock formation along the same climbing route used by a Superior man who died last week after he fell from nearly the same spot, Cmdr. Phil West said. 

Hankins was airlifted to St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver after the accident. 

A nurse at the hospital said it is too soon to know if he will survive his extensive injuries. 

Hankins’ family is coming in from out of state, according to the nurse. 

Climbers posting comments on the online forum at mountainproject.com were reflecting on Hankins and his abilities as an experienced climber. 

“Mike is a veteran of the sport for more than 30 years,” wrote Gary Stokoe, a family friend in California. “He’s a strong and committed climber with (thousands) of vertical feet of climbing all over the country, and many as a solo climber a year. 

“The fall was profoundly unfortunate.” 


Boulder resident Dave Secunda, 45, said he was out climbing adjacent to Hankins on Tuesday when he heard a woman scream from across the canyon. 

“I looked over to see him impact the ground, right on the road,” Secunda said. 

Secunda, a climbing veteran of 35 years and a former member of the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, said he was too far away to offer help. 

“Two people went running down to the ranger entry station to notify them and to call 911,” he said. 

The path where Hankins fell, Secunda said, was bustling that afternoon with other climbers — as well as the sister and girlfriend of the climber who died after falling in the same spot last week. 

The women were mourning Preston Brennan’s death beneath the Werk Supp climbing route when Hankins fell. 

Secunda said time stood still in the moments after the Tuesday accident. 

“It was like everyone in the canyon just stopped,” he said. “There was just this pregnant pause, where it seemed like no one knew what to do. It was just such a tragic and clearly tremendous fall. I just think people were in their own process and just a state of disbelief that this was unfolding.” 

Secunda said Hankins was climbing using one of the most technically challenging methods — solo climbing — without the aid of ropes or harnesses. 

“Soloing is not the way that most people climb,” he said. “It is an elite, high-end part of the sport … He was at the absolute extreme of the spectrum of risk that climbers take. There is no backup system.” 

Secunda said he doesn’t think the climbing route should be closed in light of the nearly back-to-back accidents, and so far, Colorado State Parks officials and the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office agree there is no need to restrict the popular route. 

“Climbing is inherently dangerous,” Secunda said. “I think we all, as climbers, embrace that potential risk when we go out there. I think the right response is to pause and extend our thoughts and prayers to the people involved.” 

Secunda said the accidents last week and on Tuesday “could happen on any route.” 

According to statistics kept by the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, there were 20 reports of injured rock climbers within the group’s response area last year. From 2002 to 2006, the group averaged 27 calls a year about injured climbers and averaged nine responses a year to Eldorado Canyon State Park. 

Bill Wright, president of Action Committee for Eldorado — an Eldorado Canyon climbing-enthusiasts’ group — said the Bastille formation is “relatively safe” for most climbers. 

“The rock is very solid, and there are no loose holds on that route at this particular time,” he said. “The route in question, Werk Supp, can be climbed very safely by an inexperienced climber, as there are many very good opportunities to place protection. That said, even very good climbers sometimes make mistakes.” 

Wright said the climber who fell last week probably made two mistakes: “falling and not placing good protection.”

“In the soloist’s case, he made only one mistake: falling,” Wright said.