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Body of Colorado Climber Recovered From Longs Peak After 4-Day Search

The body of the missing climber from Colorado Springs has been recovered from Mills Glacier on Longs Peak near Rocky Mountain National Park.
missing climber recovered on longs peak Lucas Macaj(Photo/RMNP)
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The search for Lucas Macaj, 23, ended Thursday when Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) announced that recovery efforts had been completed. According to a park press release, the climber from Colorado Springs had set out early on Sunday to attempt a solo ascent of Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route. The last communication Macaj sent was a text message to a friend, letting them know he’d made it to the summit.

But he did not return that evening. Search and Rescue (SAR) teams set out early on Monday to look for him. A spokesperson for RMNP told GearJunkie on Wednesday that it was a “major search incident.”

Macaj’s body was found on Mills Glacier, near the base of Lamb’s Slide, a 3rd-class difficulty alpine climbing route, the press release reported. After discovering his body, park rangers completed an on-scene investigation, and his remains were extracted via helicopter. His body was flown to the Boulder County Coroner, but the cause of death has yet to be announced.

This is the first death in RMNP this year.

A Major Search Incident: Lucas Macaj on Longs Peak

missing climber longs peak
A view of Longs Peak and missing climber Lucas Macaj; (photos/NPS)

The search for Macaj took 4 days and included numerous agencies and organizations.

RMNP spearheaded the search, but it had assistance from Flight for Life Air Ambulance, the State of Colorado Department of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC), the Colorado Army National Guard, Colorado SAR Association (CSAR), SAR Dogs of the United States, Larimer County SAR Dog Team, Boulder County Sheriff Dog Team, Park County SAR Dog Team, and El Paso County SAR Dog Team.

“The areas that RMNP Search and Rescue Team members were searching were/are in winter conditions,” RMNP told GearJunkie. “Search operations initially were hampered by strong winds, white out conditions, and low visibility. Searchers encountered deep snow in some areas with drifting snow as well as barren wind scoured areas and ice. Depending on the area, searchers were also mitigating avalanche risk.”

Over the 4-day search, these organizations and agencies used helicopter reconnaissance, ground teams, and dog teams. They searched the Keyhole Route on foot. They also used binoculars to scan Black Lake, Sandbeach Lake, the Hunter’s Creek Drainage, and areas around Chasm Lake to the Loft.

The Loft is at the top of Lamb’s Slide. SAR teams discovered Macaj’s body near the base of that route on Mills Glacier.

longs peak keyhole route
A cairn on Longs Peak’s Keyhole Route; (photo/Rick McCharles via Flickr)

Longs Peak is a popular 14,259-foot mountain on the Front Range. The Keyhole route Macaj was ascending is an 8.4-mile climb with almost 5,000 vertical feet of elevation gain.

Data collected by the 14ers Initiative estimates that around 15,000 people attempt to climb Longs Peak every year. It can be a challenging hike. RMNP rangers estimate about a 50% success rate in summiting. And according to NPS, about two people die on the mountain every year with falls accounting for 60% of the fatalities.

“Months on the calendar can be deceiving when it comes to conditions at higher elevations, particularly above treeline (11,500 feet),” RMNP warned. “Although it is May, people venturing into the park at higher elevations need to be prepared for winter conditions and should have winter mountaineering skills … If things are different than expected or not going right, turn around.”

It is not known yet if Macaj was killed during an accidental fall. The Boulder County Coroner will release the cause of death in the coming days once it’s been determined.

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