Ice climber killed in avalanche south of Ouray

  • Photo of avalanche area provided by Colorado Avalanche Information Center
    Photo of avalanche area provided by Colorado Avalanche Information Center

An ice climber who was swept down into the bottom of the Uncompahgre Gorge is the first avalanche victim of 2020 in Ouray County. The woman was not climbing at the time but was untethered.

Ouray County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd confirmed in a news release that 44-year-old Van Le Little of Seattle was killed when she was on a guided climb of the Dungeon ice climbing route.

Little was standing off to the side of the climb, taking pictures of her fellow climbers when a large chunk of ice broke off and hit the ledge above her and the other climbers.

Initial details provided by the CAIC indicate Little was killed when a falling block of ice triggered a small avalanche, and she was standing below where she was caught and carried down into the gorge by the avalanche.

“She came to rest in the creek where she was fully buried,” the initial report said. The exact cause of her death is still under investigation, pending an autopsy.

Ouray Mountain Rescue, Ouray County EMS, and the Ouray County Sheriff’s Department all responded to the incident. No other climbers were hurt, according to Boyd.

A recovery operation worked on Saturday to recover the woman, after the avalanche happened around 10:30 a.m., according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The avalanche site, at 8,900 feet in elevation, was located near mile marker 89 on Highway 550, about a mile away from the snow shed. The avalanche was triggered by natural causes.

The region around Ouray is forecasted to have "moderate" avalanche danger at this time by the CAIC.

Read more in this week's edition of the Plaindealer.