The Tragedy of Agnes Vaille (1890-1925)

Agnes Vaille was a member of the Colorado Mountain Club. Like its relative in the Northeast (the Appalachian Mountain Club), CMC had established the 14,000 footers club. At this time, she had climbed all 54 of the 14ers (see this link for the present day list). In January of 1925 she and companions from the CMC decided to do a winter climb of Longs Peak. What follows is the story of that climb from the Rocky Mountain Park history:

"Early on the afternoon of Monday, January 12, 1925, Chief Ranger Thomas J. Allen, Jr., phoned Moomaw at his residence to hurry to the Longs Peak Inn, for trouble had been reported on Longs Peak; Moomaw, Allen, and another ranger were going to have to investigate it. At the Inn, the rangers were told the basic facts of a tragedy. On the previous Saturday, January 10, Agnes W. Vaille, Elinor Eppich and Walter Kiener, all Colorado Mountain Club members, had started up the Longs Peak trail toward Timberline Cabin, with the intention of climbing the east side of the Peak. [8] Subsequently the weather became threatening, so by early Sunday morning the three considered giving up their attempt to continue any further. Then by 9:30 a.m. weather conditions had improved and Miss Vaille and Kiener decided to proceed, but Miss Eppich returned to Longs Peak Inn. It might be noted that no one had yet succeed in ascending the east side during winter time.

The two climbers made good progress, but when darkness came that Sunday, Miss Vaille and Kiener were still a considerable distance from the top. They agreed, however, that it would be more hazardous for them to retrace their steps than to complete their climb, so they continued upward. During the night the temperature dropped to 14 degrees below zero and a strong west wind began to blow, yet they reached the summit at 4:00 a.m. Monday, January 12.

Because of the intense cold and their own fatigue, they decided to descend the north side of the Peak, direct to the Boulderfield, a shorter but more dangerous route. While on the most difficult part of the north side trail, Agnes Vaille fell and slid about 150 feet down the steep face of the rock. She was stopped only by the rocks at the lower edge of the snow. Kiener quickly reached her, but was unable to help her make substantial progress. After an hour's wait Kiener decided to start down for help. Miss Vaille believed that if she could get a half an hour's sleep she could resume the trip and meet Kiener on his return. In the preceding fifty hours they had slept less than an hour. [9]

Meanwhile a party of local residents, men, composed of Jack Christen, Hugh Brown, Oscar Brown and Herbert Sortland, formed a rescue party and started up the peak. When this party did not return on Monday the rangers were called into the search. Upon reaching Timberline Cabin, the three rangers found Kiener, Hugh Brown and Christen huddled about the stove; Oscar Brown and Sortland had earlier been forced to turn back. The rangers were told that about 4:00 or 4:30 p.m., Brown, Cristen and nearly exhausted Kiener had reached Miss Vaille. They found her body lying face down on a rock, a few feet from where Kiener had left her. She probably had been dead for several hours. Unable to bring her down the mountain, the men returned to Timberline Cabin about 7:30 p.m. where Moomaw and the rangers found them. [10] After spending a sleepless night at the Cabin, the entire party went back to the Longs Peak Inn to wait for favorable weather before retrieving Miss Vaille's body. While at the Inn, they learned that Herbert Sortland had not yet returned."

Later on it the body of Herbert Sortland was found. It wsa thought that Agnes had frozen to death after her fall. After this tragic event, the park extended the phone line to the cabin at the base and the cabin was renamed the "Agnes Vaille" Cabin. A waterfall near Mt. Princeton ( in a different range of mountains than the Front Range) was named after her.

Agnes was a member of a prominent Denver family. She served the American Red Cross in France during WWI.  Upon her return, she became Secretary of the Denver Chamber of Commerce.