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Climbers Dodge Death in Boulder Attack

September 5, 1991

HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) _ A group of rock climbers say they dodged a man-made rock slide in what authorities say was a deliberate attack verging on attempted murder.

For three hours on Monday, the climbers said, they dodged rocks the size car hoods, hurled at them from 1,000 feet above. They were climbing in a canyon northwest of Hamilton, in the Bitterroot Range just east of the Idaho border.

Authorities said they have several suspects, although no arrests have been made.

″This is definitely felony stuff,″ sheriff’s detective Jim Bailey said Wednesday. ″It’s borderline attempted homicide.″

On Monday afternoon, the climbers - four Montanans and a German - were about 500 feet up a 1,500-foot canyon wall when rocks began falling off the rim and landing nearby, according to one member of the group, Alexi Wallop of Missoula.

She said they heard voices and saw people above.

Some of the rocks shattered on impact into granite shrapnel, Bailey said. Others dislodged more rocks, creating landslides that threatened to sweep the climbers off the wall.

Wallop said they ran where they could, hid behind trees and under ledges, made rapid rappels by rope and ″lots of scary moves″ to elude the falling rocks.

A rock shattered near her dog, causing it to leap off a ledge and fall. The dog is recovering.

″They were yelling things like, ‘We’re going to kill you’ and ’How’d your dog like his fall?‴ she said.

Finally, two of the climbers scrambled down to the trailhead, where they met a sheriff’s deputy on patrol. By the time the deputy returned, the canyon rim was vacant.

One climber, Gary Pyatt of Missoula, injured his knee and was struck by rock fragments, Bailey said. No one else was injured.

″It was a big war game. We were being hunted,″ Wallop said. ″It was terrifying. None of us thought we were going to get out of there alive.″

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