On Friday, March 30 my brother (Jeff Ipsen), two friends (Tom Califf and Blair Dickhoner), and myself set out to climb to the summit of Buffalo Mountain and ski down Silver Couloir. The four of us met at the Buffalo Cabin trail head around 10 am and started the ascent around 11 am. It was a bluebird day with temperatures around 40 degrees. We could not have asked for a more beautiful day.
The skin/hike up was filled with nothing but great attitudes, jokes, girl talk, and determination. After three hours and about 3,000 vertical, we reached one of the most beautiful summits I have ever experienced. The views were so spectacular; we couldn’t help but give thanks to the Lord and smile in the midst of the magnificent creation. I remember sitting atop this mountain sharing a turkey sandwich with Jeff and said, “I could stay here forever”. But the inescapable burning for adventure overcame the comfortable serenity of the mountain top. Subsequently, we strapped on our skis and skied through a series of small snow patches, followed by some unstable rock traversing. Finally, four hours later, we had reached the destination of the trip.
At 3 pm, the four of us stood skier s right, atop the 2,000 foot couloir with grins on our faces. The snow was still much harder than anticipated, despite our intended late start. But we continued none the less, just skiing with caution and taking turns to avoid multiple people from getting caught in a potential avalanche. Tom was the first to drop on our first pitch, and skied to a safe location. Blair, Jeff, and then my self followed, and even despite our caution, we all slid out at some point of the ski. The energy of the group at the checkpoint of the second pitch was as strong as ever, filled with the excitement of four avid skiers who had just tasted one of the most powerful couloirs in North America.
Blair and I tried to stay composed and ski with proper avalanche precautions while we picked up Jeff’s skis and the one ski pole he was not using to self arrest. I was praying to the Lord that I would see my brother just around the bend, laughing at the fact of just overcoming certain disaster. But once I got around the bend, all I could see was Jeff’s other ski pole stuck amongst the rock on the right side of the run. At this point, my heart dropped and my stomach rose into my mouth because I knew this was bad. I continued skiing down as carefully as possible to avoid any other accidents and praying to see them laughing around each upcoming bend. It wasn’t until I was at the bottom of the run when the couloir widens, did I see Tom kneeling over my motionless brother. My world flipped upside down and I bolted for the two of them.
Even from a distance I could see that Tom had already called Flight for Life, stabilized, and secured my brother by positioning him perpendicular to the hillside on a compacted shelf and was supporting his neck. The wounds and distortions of my brother's body were stomach-twisting, but the joy in my heart to see that he was still breathing filled my body with a burst of optimism and adrenaline. Tom immediately filled me in on the existing symptoms and gave me directions on what to do. Jeff’s right leg was bleeding profusely and was mangled severely. We were directed by medical personal over the phone not to tie a tourniquet but just to apply significant pressure to the wound. So I knelt beside my brother and took his left hand in my right while I applied as much pressure as possible to his right quadricep with my left hand. Tom was right beside me supporting Jeff’s head and ensuring his airways were open. Blair had arrived on scene and quickly wrapped Jeff in a space blanket, extra jackets, and the very hat Blair was wearing. He proceeded to then provide assistance and relief to both Tom and myself as needed and write down all vital symptoms to have ready for the medical personal.
So there the four of us were, huddled around Jeff in the middle of the Silver Couloir, doing everything we could to keep Jeff alive. We had nothing but basic medical gear, prayers, and determination. Over an hour went by with us assisting each other as needed and communicating with the first responders. Jeff’s vitals seemed to be stable and all thoughts of failure were distant or obsolete. Then a blessing came from out of the woods. A man named Tim from the CAIC (Colorado Avalanche Information Center) aided our assistance and ensured we were doing all we could. He had more direct communication with the first responders and helped give us hope. Then after nearly two hours from the accident, Jeff’s breaths started to decrease. Within ten minutes, he went from 36 breaths per minute, to 24 bpm, to 12 bpm, then to 6 bpm. At this point, the world flipped once again, and fight or flight responses kicked in. All hands were on him supporting his head, pressurizing his wounds, and I proceeded to give him assisted breaths for what seemed an eternity. But no matter how hard we tried, his lungs failed to respond. After about 4-5 minutes, his heart stopped. Tim started chest compressions and I continued applying breaths, two at a time between the 15 compressions. Medical personal were on the ground and coming as quickly as possible, but were just beyond a close ridge. Tom assisted Tim with chest compressions and after about 10 minutes of CPR, the first of the medical crew arrived on scene; Blair relieved me while the first responder relieved Tom and Tim.
More medical crew arrived on scene and performed more technical procedures while the four of us (Tom, Blair, Tim, myself) huddled nearby, praying for hope! Everybody worked so hard but after his heart had been stopped for over 30 minutes, he was pronounced dead around 5:30 pm. We all said our goodbyes to my brother and were guided out by search and rescue members, while over a dozen stayed to help safely transport Jeff’s body from the mountain side. My parents were waiting for me when I arrived at the search and rescue camp around 9 p.m. and we waited for more than three hours until we were all able to once again send final regards to Jeff’s body.
Jeff was my only and older brother by three-and-a-half years. He was the best one I could ever ask for and words cannot describe how much he means to me. I am so thankful to God that I was blessed to have him protecting me for my entire life. The gifts Jeff has shared with me will live on forever and his spirit runs stronger than ever in my mind, heart, and soul. He died doing what he loved most, and I am so blessed to have been there beside him for his last breaths. All of those involved in the rescue mission performed to their fullest potential, and I am so grateful for the Summit County Search and Rescue Group, Flight for Life, and Tim from CAIC. Tom and Blair were unbelievable during this whole unfortunate event for both my brother and myself. Nobody can predict how someone else will react in such a traumatic situation as this, but I could have asked for nothing more than to have the two of them at our sides. I am forever indebted to these two brave men for their heroic actions and support. Thank you all for everything, Jeff is smiling down upon us at this moment wishing he could be here to comfort us; so I ask that you remember him for who he was, and grieve his loss not with tears but love and stories.