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Ice climber falls to his death near Silverton

Mark Miller, 50, of Ouray, was guiding two European clients up a well-known route called First Gully northeast of Silverton when he fell to his death Friday.

An ice climber fell several hundred feet to his death on Friday in Silverton’s Eureka Canyon.

Mark Miller, 50, of Ouray, was guiding two European clients up a well-known route called First Gully during the final day of a four-day climbing course. He was climbing off rope when he fell, according to statements his clients made to the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office.

“He was off rope about 7 feet to the left of the lead climber,” said San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad on Saturday morning.

The accident occurred sometime in mid-afternoon, and the call to dispatch came in about 6 p.m.

Miller’s clients found their way out, with some complications, then made contact with authorities.

Conrad told the Silverton Standard that Miller’s clients described a failure in a bulge of ice about four pitches up – or about 800 feet – on a section of ice Miller was climbing.

Miller was a well-known member of the regional climbing community, guiding professionally for 20 years, and was employed by San Juan Mountain Guides, which has offices in Durango and Ouray. He was an instructor for Rigging for Rescue, a technical rope rescue organization, and a Ouray County EMT. He also was a member of Ouray Mountain Rescue.

First Gully is a massive, meandering cascade of ice about a half-mile past the mining ruins of Eureka, on the west side of the canyon, 9 miles north of Silverton on San Juan County Road 2. It is a popular ice-climbing challenge because of its accessibility and moderate challenge.

Conrad told the Silverton Standard that Miller lived for the mountains and loved to teach.

“It’s a sad, sad day,” Conrad said. “I’ve been doing rescue work for a long time and had a lot of respect for the man’s abilities. He was a well-known fixture of the climbing and rescue community in the region.”

A gathering is planned at the Ouray Ice Park’s Climber Memorial at 3 p.m. Sunday.


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