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Tetons, Wyoming: (3) Middle Teton

Tetons, Wyoming: (3) Middle Teton. On 21 July 1948 a party of five from the Chicago Mountaineering Club, led by Paul Stettner and including also Mary Casebeer, John Farr, William Primak and Arthur Tielsch, left Garnet Canyon on their first day of climbing from high camp to try to find a new route on the north ridge of the Middle Teton via the lower saddle. They reached the summit early in the evening and descended by the south couloir to the saddle between the South and Middle Tetons. On this part of the descent, they lost their way; and they had to continue by moonlight. Not far below the saddle, the party unroped, because it was felt that the going would be easy; and Stettner led downward in a traverse of the upper tongue of a steep convex snow field that extends in a drop-off into the walls of the south fork of Garnet Canyon. The angle was estimated at about 30 degrees.

Mary Casebeer wore Bramani-type boots; Farr, Army combat boots with smooth soles and heels; the rest of the party, heavy leather boots nailed with Tricounis and hobs. There was one ice- axe in the party. In the descent they joined hands and proceeded diagonally downward, apparently intending to hit the point where the snow field narrows and to follow its crest along the rocks. About 80 feet short of the narrowing of the snow field, one member slipped and knocked Farr and Tielsch off their feet. Apparently the handhold between Farr and Tielsch was broken, and Tielsch slid down on his back. He slid about 300 feet, out of control, to a point where the snow field steepened to about 45 degrees, and then on for another 300 feet into a pile of scree. He was found shortly thereafter, dead, 40 feet below the snow.

After the accident the party roped and moved to safety along the upper edge of the snow field. When it had been ascertained that Tielsch was dead, Primak was sent down alone to summon help while the others of the party rested and awaited dawn. Primak reached headquarters at 7.30 A.M. on July 22nd. Park authorities and members of the Chicago Mountaineering Club packed equipment and reached the body at 4.00 P.M. Evacuation to the campsite in Garnet Canyon was accomplished by Stokes stretcher and a six- man carry. From there a horse-borne stretcher with special cargo saddle was used as far as the road at Lupine Meadows.

Sources of information: National Park Service report, and Chicago Mountaineering Club report.

Analysis. This accident resulted from a combination of fatigue, night climbing and failure to observe basic precautions on steep snow slopes. After a long day of climbing (especially if it be the first high climbing of the season), one must be careful not to underestimate the effects of fatigue on a party’s physical strength and on its judgment. It is well known that fatigue, plus a desire to escape the discomforts of an enforced bivouac, can lead even experienced climbers to far exceed the reasonable margin of safety without being aware of it. Moreover, the hazards of nighttime descent by an uncertain route on steep frozen snow are such as to suggest at least the careful use of rope and ice-axe—there was rope for all, and Primak had the axe—or the finding of another, less dangerous route. Since the party was under the leadership of a climber of some experience, one can only conclude that fatigue and the desire to get his party off the mountain at all costs must have obscured his recognition of the very real hazards to which he was exposing it.