Peter Jeffris - disturbing deaths in the mountains and National Parks

Peter Jeffris, body found November 20th, 2014, Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Peter Jeffris death rocky mountain national park

On November 16th, 2014 Peter Jeffris, 25, had planned a solo hike to summit the Longs Peak in the Rocky Mountain National Park. He aimed to summit the mountain and return the same day.

Longs Peak is one of Colorado’s "Fourteeners" and has an altitude of 14,259 feet (4346 m). It is located in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains and in the Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness,  Longs Peak is the northernmost fourteener in the Rocky Mountains and the highest point in Boulder County and Rocky Mountain National Park. The mountain was named in honour of explorer Stephen Harriman Long.

Longs Peak Colorado

Peter planned to hike to Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route. This is described by the National Park service as follows:

The Keyhole Route is not a hike. It is a climb that crosses enormous sheer vertical rock faces, often with falling rocks, requiring scrambling, where an unroped fall would likely be fatal. The route has narrow ledges, loose rock, and steep cliffs.

For most of the year, climbing Longs Peak is in winter conditions, which requires winter mountaineering experience and the knowledge and use of specialized equipment. Disregard for the mountain environment any time of year has meant danger, injury and even death.

The Keyhole Route can experience winter-like conditions at any time, requiring greater skill and judgment. Be prepared to turn back during sudden, drastic weather changes.

The high elevation may affect your condition and judgment. Careful descent is the best treatment.

Don't have summit fever: Enjoy the experience, but be willing to turn around at any time.

For those who are prepared, the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak, one of the most popular routes in Colorado, is an extraordinary climbing experience.

Jeffris was a University of Colorado graduate specialising in mechanical engineering and was working at Broomfield’s Altius Space Machines. He was also an Eagle Scout.

On November 17th he failed to show up at work the next day, colleagues became worried and he was reported missing to the authorities as Peter had fortunately told some of his coworkers that he was going to climb Longs Peak on Sunday. Peter's car was quickly found at the Longs Peak trailhead and searches of the area were launched. 

There was three days of intensive searching of 20 square miles around the peak in extreme weather conditions with winds gusting at well above 80 miles per hour and temperatures below freezing. But there was no luck in finding Peter. Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue Teams were assisted by Larimer County Search and Rescue, Rocky Mountain Rescue, Alpine Rescue Team, Diamond Peaks Ski Patrol, Douglas County Search and Rescue, Search Dogs of Colorado and the Colorado Search and Rescue Board. Park staff also worked with the US Air Force Rescue Coordination Centre.

Then the weather cleared up enough for helicopters to conduct a sweep and on November 20th Peter's body was found about 200 feet below an area called The Ledges. Four Search and Rescue team members were flown to the Glacier Gorge drainage and climbed approximately 1,800 vertical feet to Jeffris' body.

The Ledges Longs Peak

There were freezing temperatures and high winds in the area at the time of Peter's hike and he did not carry clothing and shelter for an overnight stay in the mountains. The Boulder County coroner later determined that he had died of hypothermia and that his death was an accident. Peter's death was the third fatality on the mountain that season.

Background the the hike

Peter had tried to get a group together to scale Longs Peak but when none of his friends could make it, he decided to climb the mountain by himself. He had solo climbed Longs several times before.

He was skilled at winter survival  but decided to pack light in the hopes of being able to move quickly and make the summit and back in less than one day which given the weather conditions and early darkness would be a major challenge. "He left a lot of gear behind at home," Rocky Mountain National Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said at the time. "When people move light, they go fast, but when something terrible happens, like they get lost or injured, that certainly can have a significant impact on how you might be able to cope with the elements and spend the night out. He was not prepared for that -- no tent, no heavy jacket." 

The camera found on the body had a selfie video he took from the summit around 4.30pm the day he died. Normally for Longs Peak, hikers will camp out and start hiking around 5am so they can summit by noon and be back off the mountain by dark. Peter reached the summit only shortly before sunset. 

On the way back down, about a 1/4 mile from the “Keyhole” Peter for some reason left the marked trail and was climbing above the normal trail across the “Narrows” (a narrow ledge leading about half a mile above sheer drop-offs), when he fell over 600 feet to his death.

Peter's mother, Jeanne Jeffris, said he had planned the climb of Longs Peak carefully and researched the route. She said he'd done this climb several times in winter and had recently purchased new gear for the hike. She said she spoke to him, when he said he'd run with his boss but was "saving his legs for the climb on Sunday." She also said he was in great shape and was a well-prepared climber

Jeffris' former scoutmaster, Tim Le Brun, says Jeffris was in great shape and prepared for such a climb."Through scouting we had been on rock-climbing adventures, on mountaineering adventures in New Mexico, we had been on survival hikes where you prepare for things like this,"

Le Brun says he's not sure what may have led to Jeffris' death,"He was a cautious person, but not at the expense of the adventure".

What happened to Peter Jeffris on Longs Peak?

It seems that Peter Jeffris was well prepared for a fast hike to the summit of Longs Peak but moving down the 14,259 feet peak at 4.30pm in darkness without support was pretty foolhardy, even for an experienced winter climber. When the weather turned bad with gales and low temperatures lacking equipment for an overnight stay he was probably doomed. Why he left the Keyhole and went off trail is a mystery but perhaps by then hypothermia or altitude sickness or even panic may have caused Peter to make rash decisions as he moved down the mountain. Perhaps something else caused Peter to tackle the area climbing above the normal trail across the “Narrows”?

Solo mountain hiking in winter is not a hobby to be recommended without adequate equipment and good weather. Peter had all the right skills, he was a cautious person, had the hike planned but even then he very sadly succumbed to the Rocky Mountains.