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A Letter Of Gratitude From Lisa Foster

Ypsilon Mountain from Chipmunk Lake. Photo by Andrew Donaldson.

Ypsilon Mountain from Chipmunk Lake.

On March 17, 2013, my friend Dave Laurienti and I were involved in a climbing accident on Ypsilon Mountain (13,514 feet) in Rocky Mountain National Park. Tragically, Dave lost his life, and I was severely injured. I have spent the last ten months struggling to heal from this incident, both physically and emotionally. It has been a very difficult time and I’d like to thank my family, friends and community members for all their support, prayers and love.

I want to offer my sincere thanks to everyone who offered kind words, condolences, financial help, much-needed meals, cards, flowers, emotional support and more. The generosity extended to me, my family and the Laurienti family after the accident was incredible. None of your efforts went unnoticed or unappreciated, even though for many months I was unable to respond or communicate. Please accept my appreciation and know that I felt your care and love.

I would also like to thank everyone involved with the rescue efforts to help Dave and me after the accident, including Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue, Larimer County Search and Rescue, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, and Rocky Mountain Rescue. Additionally, key members of the local climbing community selflessly volunteered their time to help my husband search for us even before the official rescue was implemented. Every one of the people on the rescue teams put their lives on the line to help us. The skill and competency of the rescue was commendable, and the compassion, care and kindness of each and every rescuer will live in my heart forever.

The medical help I received from my doctors, nurses, therapists and other professionals in Estes Park and Greeley was world-class, and without it I would not be as far along in my healing process. Their expert, compassionate aid went above and beyond the normal call of duty, and that kind of support can only be administered by people who truly care. Thank you.

Lisa Foster

Lisa Foster

Dave Laurienti was a talented climber who made good decisions and did the best he could to preserve his own life and my life on our climb of Blitzen Ridge on Ypsilon Mountain last March. The tragic course of events that unfolded was a regrettable, disastrous and heartbreaking accident.

We set out to climb the route on Saturday, March 16 with a favorable weather forecast. We knew we would have reasonable temperatures (highs in the 30s F and lows in the 20s F), no wind, and lightly falling snow. We knew that the weather was supposed to turn bad on Sunday, with low temperatures and high winds in the afternoon, but we planned this as a single-day climb, and we did not anticipate being on the mountain when the weather changed. The route was complicated due to difficult snow and ice conditions on the rock, and much more time consuming than we anticipated. As night fell on March 16, we had to make a decision about whether to retreat via a potentially avalanche-prone gully located midway up the mountain or continue to the summit to access an uncomplicated but lengthy walk-off. We chose the latter but unfortunately got off-route due to darkness, inadvertently entering much more technical terrain, which drastically slowed our progress. We continued climbing through the night, and into the next day.

In the late afternoon of March 17, the winds increased so ferociously that continuing to the top to reach the non-technical walk-off ceased to be an option. We were forced to descend the steep and remote Northeast Couloir from a point only 200 vertical feet below the summit of Ypsilon Mountain. As we down-climbed, an avalanche barreled down from above, ripping us off the mountain and violently slamming us down the gully. We were roped together, and miraculously one of the two pieces of gear that we had placed between us arrested the fall after about 140 feet and prevented our immediate deaths.

The brutality of the avalanche left me with two broken ribs, a broken tailbone, a torn MCL, torn wrist ligaments and more. I developed severe frostbite on my hands from the length of time we were exposed to the elements. Dave had various superficial abrasions and swelling on his knee, but amazingly, he did not sustain significant traumatic physical injuries from the avalanche. However, the snow and ice from the slide completely penetrated his clothing and exacerbated the hypothermia that had been creeping in over the course of the previous 40+ hours of climbing in winter conditions.

We did our best to self-rescue, moving down into the Fay Lakes drainage before Dave could no longer continue. I tried to keep us moving, to summon help via cell phone (unfortunately we had no reception), and eventually to dig a snow shelter to shield us from the unrelenting winds. I tried to administer what medical care I could to my friend, and to comfort him in the face of the storm. Tragically, that Sunday night, mere hours after he miraculously survived the avalanche, Dave Laurienti succumbed to hypothermia in the upper Fay Lakes drainage of Rocky Mountain National Park. In his final moments, we reminisced about his wife and two children. He went peacefully and without pain, surrounded by the memory of his loving family. I stayed by his side all night.

By dawn on March 18 it became obvious that I had to start moving in an effort to save my own life. Visibility was low due to blowing snow, which caused me to fumble along a four-mile detour before I figured out my mistake and corrected my course. The only good thing that came out of that detour was that I discovered an open pocket in a creek, which allowed me to guzzle four liters of icy stream water, providing me with more strength to carry on. I continued to limp down the mountain, determined to hike out to communicate with Dave’s family.

Almost 24 hours after my friend passed away in the remote location north of upper Fay Lake, I was intercepted by the official rescue cadre on the northeast shore of Ypsilon Lake. I was grateful to see the rescue team, many of them personal friends of mine. They evacuated me, contacted Dave’s family and recovered Dave’s body.

That was the saddest day of my life, and I will never fully recover from the pain of losing Dave. I am so grateful for his family’s love and friendship and I am overwhelmed by their courage, strength and perseverance. They have suffered a terrible loss, and my heart will always ache for them. Dave’s wife, Liesl Laurienti, is my good friend. She and I want Dave to be remembered for the wonderful person he was—a loving father, a devoted husband, a faithful friend, a kind, caring, good-natured individual and a strong, motivated and proficient climber.

On August 31, 2013, Bob Chase, a senior guide at the Colorado Mountain School, and I accomplished the “First Annual Dave Laurienti Memorial Climb of Blitzen Ridge.” Bob is a long-time family friend of both my family and the Laurienti’s. It is our hope that each summer, a small band of experienced, qualified and capable climbers from the Front Range and from around the globe will join us in undertaking a safety-conscious, summer climb of Blitzen Ridge in honor of Dave Laurienti. In this way, Dave’s name will live on in the climbing community, reminding us of his skill, his motivation and his love for these mountains.

Thank you, each and every one of you, for your care and concern. I miss Dave terribly, and I am grateful for every prayer, kind word and act of kindness toward me and Liesl and our families. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

God bless you all, and God bless Dave Laurienti.

Lisa Foster

Estes Park

 

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