Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Disappointment Peak

Publication Year: 1961.

Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Disappointment Peak—Arthur N. Plaxton (20), and Richard O. Parmelee (20), an employee at Jackson Lake Lodge, left a note at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station at 7:30 a.m. on September 3. It stated that they were going to climb Disappointment Peak and would return that same evening.

At 4:30 p.m., an exhausted girl, identifying herself as Brenda Clayson, hurriedly entered the same ranger station with the startling report that she and her companion, John Fisher, had witnessed a climbing accident while hiking near Amphitheater Lake. This had happened at approximately 3:15 p.m.

The information she imparted was vague and the Park rescue team, consisting of six men, took off from Lupine Meadow at 6:00 p.m., knowing only that an injured climber lay somewhere in the vicinity of the headwall just above Amphitheater Lake with possibly two men attending him.

Two members of the rescue team, Dave Doman and Ron Trussell, traveling light, were sent on ahead to try and locate the scene of the accident before dark. They arrived at Amphitheater Lake shortly after 7:30 p.m. The remainder of the team, pushing the trail wheel, reached the scene at 9:15 p.m. The injured climber had been identified as Richard O. Parmelee.

Arthur Plaxton and Parmelee had completed the ascent of Disappointment Peak by the Lake Ledge Route, reaching the summit at 12:30 p.m. The descent was begun at 1:15 p.m. The main couloir that bisects the steep area above Amphitheater Lake was missed and they proceeded to descend another much steeper gully farther south. Near the lower end of this gully they came to a steep section that could not be descended, and Parmelee traversed northward along a ledge in an attempt to find a route down. The time was 3:00 p.m. Plaxton trailed a short distance out on the ledge behind Parmelee. Suddenly Parmelee’s foot hold gave way. He slid down on the steep rock face on his back for nearly 100 feet where he dropped into the gully below the steep section and tumbled an additional 100 feet before coming to a stop at a point where the gully spills out onto the steep talus above the Lake.

Plaxton was able to attract the attention of some hikers at Amphitheater Lake. One of the hikers (John Fisher) came to the assistance of Parmelee while his companion (Brenda Clayson) dashed off down the trail to report the accident.

Plaxton remained stranded on the ledge for some time before a group of climbers, returning from a climb on Mount Owen, assisted him down to Amphitheater Lake. Another party of climbers, planning an ascent of Mount Owen, arrived on the scene around 6:30 p.m. They rendered what aid they could to Parmelee, who was unconscious and suffering from severe head injuries, while the former climbing party accompanied Plaxton and Fisher on down the mountain.

When the main body of the rescue team reached Parmelee, he was lying on his back with head uphill. He had previously been placed in a down mummy bag (probably by the second climbing party to arrive at the scene) and numerous compresses had been applied to his head. A cursory examination of Parmelee was sufficient to reveal the urgency of a quick evacuation. Since he had already been moved once in placing him awkwardly in the mummy bag, it was thought best not to disturb him anymore, and further first-aid procedures were curtailed.

The evacuation, which included a short hand-carry over talus to the Lake and a seven mile jaunt down the steep Glacier Trail using the litter wheel, was underway by 10:00 p.m. and completed by 1:30 a.m., September 4. Parmelee never regained consciousness but died at 10:00 a.m. in St. John’s Hospital, Jackson, the morning after his fall. Death was attributed chiefly to a severe skull fracture directly over the left eye. In addition, he suffered from broken ribs, punctured lungs, and a broken arm.

Source: F. Douglas McLaren, Supervisory Park Ranger, and James M. Langford, Park Ranger, and H. L. Bill, Superintendent, G.T.N.P.

Analysis: Had this party registered their climb in the proper manner as required by the National Park Service, they would not have been permitted to make this ascent without having received additional knowledge of the route they were attempting and having been assured of what climbing equipment was necessary. With a rope and the proper knowledge of its use they would have been able to come down without difficulty once they realized they were off route.