American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Wyoming, Tetons

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1951

Wyoming: (4) Tetons. On 28 July 1950 a party of six left the Garnet Canyon bivouac caves for the Exum ridge of the Grand Teton. They waited on the lower saddle while a storm passed by. In clearing weather they climbed the ridge, on three ropes. Two ropes reached the top of the main part of the ridge a little ahead of the third. Here there is a small cliff, which can be by-passed by a chimney on the left. Georges de Rham, an experienced Swiss mountaineer, decided to climb the cliff. He was belayed by Irving Fisk. The last rope team, Hassler Whitney and his son Jim, arrived when de Rham was about halfway up. A second storm was threatening, and the Whitneys climbed the chimney. They were called back at 12:20 P.M. De Rham had reached for a large block to find a hold. The block came out, causing de Rham to fall to a ledge 13 or 15 feet below. The block grazed his head, cutting his face badly; he was knocked unconscious. The Whitneys stayed with him until 12:40, then started down for help, leaving Fisk and the two others with the injured man. The storm broke about 1:30, - - snow, hail and lightning. The Whitneys reached the upper saddle at 2:05. Leaving Jim on the lower rocks, H. Whitney arrived in the valley at 3:45 P.M. The rescue party, delayed by difficulties with the two-way radio set, started up the mountainside about 6:20 P.M., prepared to carry sleeping bags from the lower saddle up the peak if necessary. In the meantime (de Rham not being fully conscious yet), the others were caught on the top ridge by the lightning; two were knocked out, but none injured. (Apparently the lightning struck at or near the summit only, and ground currents caught the climbers.) Immediately afterwards they all started to descend. The long rappel to the upper saddle was especially difficult. In spite of his injuries, de Rham descended successfully with the others, meeting the rescue party about 1000 feet above the valley floor.

Source of information: member of the party.

Analysis. De Rham pulled out a loose block in a dangerous place, which illustrates the fact that all climbers, no matter how well trained, must be cautious under all conditions. It may be questioned why he chose this route with a storm in the offing. (In fact, the question arises whether it was good judgment for anyone to tackle the ridge on such a day in the first place.) Perhaps he was waiting for the third rope; in this case, it would have been better to descend upon their arrival. It was perhaps an error not to have got the party well off the ridge before lightning could strike, even if this meant considering the difficult work of transporting the injured man. In the stress of circumstances, apparently, no one thought of this danger. In case of a serious accident, it is doubly necessary to think clearly and calmly of the situation as a whole. If the leader must leave the rest, he should give authority to someone else, and brief him on the main points to keep in mind.

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