American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Avalanche, Inexperience, Wyoming, Tetons

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1980

AVALANCHE, INEXPERIENCE

Wyoming, Tetons

On April 25, Tim Drew (24) and Jerry Lucas (22) signed out at Park Headquarters to climb the Grand Teton by the East Ridge Route. The climbers were friends, working at the Targhee Resort on the west side of the Teton Range. Drew was the more experienced of the two climbers and had made an unsuccessful assault on the East Ridge earlier this winter.

The night of the 25th was spent at the base of the East Ridge in a tent. Their light packs, on the day of the ascent, indicated that they did not plan to bivouac on the climb, but intended to return that same day.

The next morning the pair climbed the first 2,000 feet of the ridge and, from their tracks, it appears that they traversed from the right side of the ridge to the left on the snow slope under the Molar Tooth, the first prominent rock tower on the ridge. At this time, it was probably between 10 a.m. and noon on the 26th. Their tracks were visible up the ridge to this point, but ended in avalanche debris just below the Molar Tooth. They were caught in a wet snow avalanche and were carried to their deaths, 1,200 feet below, over the southeast side of the mountain. (Source: Ralph Tingey, Grand Teton National Park)

Analysis

Wet spring avalanches are visible over much of the mountain. Apparently the two were unroped at this point. Their tracks indicate that they had been breaking through warm, wet, soft snow which is very prone to avalanche at this time of year. Here at the base of the Molar Tooth, they were apparently caught, unroped, in a wet slide on the steep snow slope. This was apparently caused by the climbers themselves who were probably very close together. They were carried down the slope about 200 feet and then down a steep south-facing chimney-gully another 1,000 feet, coming to rest about 20 feet apart near the top of the north side of the Black Dike Couloir on the southeast side of the Grand Teton. Lucas had had some experience rock climbing in Kentucky and North Carolina, but neither climber had much experience with snow or with avalanches. (Source: Ralph Tingey, Grand Teton National Park)

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