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Witness preaches safety after seeing Minnesota climber's fatal fall

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Granite Peak in Montana
Granite Peak in Montana, as seen from a neighboring mountain.
Troy Smith via Flickr Creative Commons

A Minnesota man is dead after falling between 150 and 200 feet while ascending Montana's highest peak last weekend.

Eric Lindberg, 65, of Circle Pines, was hiking on the 12,808-foot Granite Peak when he slipped and fell last Saturday afternoon during an excursion with his son, Anders.

The Park County Coroner's Office and a witness confirmed details of the accident to MPR News.

Phil Corah, 27, saw the fall. He and climbing partner Grant Brinkman were tracing the same route as the Lindbergs on Granite Peak's southwest couloir, a steep gully.

Aside from the elevation gain, most of the hike is fairly easy, Corah said, until the last 400-500 feet when it gets more technical and involves climbing.

Corah and Brinkman were ahead of the Lindbergs until they stopped short before reaching the summit, deciding it was too challenging.

The Lindbergs passed them and continued on toward the summit. They were moving quickly and appeared to be highly experienced climbers, Corah recalled.

Anders, a tall man, was especially fast and used his height to reach holds more easily, Corah said.

At one point, Corah said he heard Eric say to his son, “Oh, I thought this was an easier climb!”

Corah watched them progress up the steep, rocky trail with Anders leading the way. Then Eric fell backward, apparently after he slipped off a hold.

“Oh, my God, did he just fall?” Anders yelled out, according to Corah. 

Anders, Corah and Brinkman quickly descended to attempt to care for Eric. The elder Lindberg had an SOS beacon for calling help in the event of an accident, but it broke during the fall.

Any help was miles away through remote wilderness.

So, they tried giving CPR to Eric for several minutes. They gave up and decided someone would need to hike out for help. Corah said Anders hiked some 17 miles to the nearest town, but it was too late; his father died from his injuries.

Corah and Brinkman stayed in contact with Anders through the immediate aftermath. “You could tell that he was pretty wrecked from it,” Corah said.

It weighed heavily on Corah and Brinkman, too. They’ve been talking every day since witnessing the fall, Corah said.

Corah wants to spread a message of safety to climbers and hikers.

The Lindbergs had helmets, plus ice axes and crampons to get through the icy, snowy patches. But they didn’t use ropes, following popular guide instructions for the route that say it’s safe to climb without ropes.

That information is bad and should be ignored, Corah said — safety gear is necessary.

“It may be easy for some climbers to get up there and do that, but no matter what there's a risk,” Corah said. “I’m sure on a different day, Anders and Eric could’ve got up there no problem. But you never know when that accident's going to happen."

Granite Peak is "considered one of the most difficult of the 50 state high points," according to the mountaineering website Summit Post.

Gary Maxson mourned the loss of his friend in a Facebook post:

"[Lindberg's] dream was to get to the high point of all 50 states. I had so looked forward to future hikes with Eric and traveling to some of those high points with him. So sad for his wife, sons, and grandchildren who have to cope with a huge loss."