Wyoming, Grend Teton National Park, Grand Teton (2)— On August 9, a guided party led by Robert French (25) and Peter Lev (20) were descending die summit block of the Grand Teton. The weather was clear and the climbing conditions were excellent.
The party of nine had started down from the summit shortly before 10:00 a.m They were descending the relatively easy series of broken chimneys and ledges just above the Owen Rappel without ropes. Robert French was leading the party down, placing himself carefully at the bottom of each pitch and giving assistance where necessary.
Several members of the climbing party had successfully negotiated one 10-foot pitch into the floor of a wide chimney and were standing together when Mrs. Jessie Sargent (44), in the act of descending the same pitch, suddenly peeled off backwards. Bob French, who was standing directly below her, caught her as she fell, lost his footing and rolled downward a few feet with her. Apparently, Mrs. Sargent struck her left foot against a rock in the tumble, breaking it at the ankle.
Mrs. Sargent was made comfortable and warm in the floor of the chimney, Peter Lev remaining with her. The rest of the party was helped over the rappel, after which Bob French left them at their insistence that they could make their way down without difficulty.
The accident was reported to the Ranger at Jenny Lake Ranger Station within 3½ hours. Two sleeping bags, a down jacket and several parkas and sweaters were immediately dispatched by the Guide Concession to the scene of the accident.
Four park rescue team members, assisted by Glenn Exum of the Guide Concession, arrived at the Lower Saddle early that evening. Assured that Mrs. Sargent was warm and comfortable and in care of two guides, it was decided not to climb any higher or to attempt any rescue activities until the next day.
Rescue operations from the 13,400-foot level were under way by 5:00 a.m. the next day and the Lower Saddle was reached shortly after 10:00 a.m. where a helicopter took over and completed the mission.
Source: Park Ranger James M. Langford and H. L. Bill, Superintendent, G.T.N.P.
Analysis: The cause of Mrs. Sargent’s fall was not apparent to any of the climbers who witnessed the accident. She was climbing down the short but steep pitch facing inward. About 3-4 feet above the floor of the chimney she “gave a little gasp and peeled off backwards” in a spread- eagle position.
This particular pitch should warrant an upper belay; however, in this case, the protection from below was presumed to be adequate. Certainly this accident points out the importance of the responsibility of the leader in evaluating the climbing ability of each individual in his party. At the slightest hint of difficulty by a member, a belay should be initiated. Of course, this accident could have very well taken place on the backyard fence.