American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Rappel Failure, Bad Weather, Hypothermia, Inadequate Equipment, Wyoming, Tetons

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

RAPPEL FAILURE, BAD WEATHER, HYPOTHERMIA, INADEQUATE

EQUIPMENT

Wyoming, Tetons

About 2:30 a.m. on August 28, Don DeMuro (22) died of hypothermia while trying to descend the Petzoldt Ridge on the Grand Teton. He and Mike Katchmar (20) had become benighted after hanging up their rappel rope during a snow storm.

At 5:15 a.m. on August 27, Katchmar and DeMuro left the Garnet Meadows for the Petzoldt Ridge. They arrived at the Lower Saddle at 7 a.m. and were at the base of the Petzoldt Ridge at 9 a.m. About 6 p.m., they arrived at the notch at the summit of the prominent part of the Petzoldt Ridge. It had been snowing lightly most of the climb. While they were in the notch, it began to snow heavily and there was a strong wind. Katchmar and DeMuro began rappelling down the east side of the ridge on their one 150-foot rope. After the fourth rappel, they were not able to retrieve their rope. They became wet and cold while attempting, unsuccessfully, to free the rappel rope.

They did a forced bivouac at this point with minimal equipment. Katchmar said that early in the morning DeMuro began acting erratically. Katchmar talked DeMuro into going back to sleep and covered him with his body attempting to block the wind. Katchmar believes DeMuro died about 2:30 a.m. Katchmar then used some of DeMuro ’s clothing to survive the remainder of the night.

Katchmar believed he began yelling for help at 9 a.m. on August 28. Tod Lytle (Reporting Party) stated that the actual time when he and seven others heard Katchmar yelling was 6:30 a.m. Lytle arrived at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station at 10:30 a.m. He reported the yelling at the Lower Saddle. After a discussion with District Ranger Milligan, it was decided to initiate a rescue.

About noon, a second reporting party, Mike McCurry, stated that Elizabeth Katchmar said her husband, Mike, was one day overdue attempting the Petzoldt Ridge. Elizabeth was camped at the Garnet Meadows.

Katchmar was going to wait for a rescue until the clouds cleared and he freed the rappel rope. At 12 p.m., he began rappelling the east side of the Petzoldt Ridge. At 7 p.m., he was met by rescue Rangers above the Black Dike. He was placed in a half bag and jacket and fed on the Black Dike. At 8:30 p.m. he was assisted to the Exum Hut. At 8 p.m. Elizabeth Katchmar was flown out of the Meadows.

At 7 a.m. on August 29, recovery operations were begun from the Lower Saddle. At noon, Mike Katchmar was flown out from the Lower Saddle. DeMuro’s body was lowered down the east side of the Petzoldt Ridge in two 300-foot moves. Approximately 350 feet were on rock and 250 feet were on snow and ice. DeMuro’s body arrived at the helispot at the Lower Saddle by 6:30 p.m. and was flown to Lupine Meadows. The 15- man rescue team was then flown out. (Source: Ralph Tingey, Grand Teton National Park)

Analysis

At 12:30 p.m. on August 29, investigating Ranger Howard, and Rangers Atchison and Tingey interviewed Mike (Colby) Katchmar. Katchmar gave his account of the incident.

He stated that their food supply was minimal. They carried an apple, a little gorp and a granola bar each. He said they did not eat much of this food during the ordeal.

Katchmar stated he had cotton jeans, a Woolrich shirt, a T-shirt, a wool hat, and a Gerry parka. DeMuro had cotton jeans, a T-shirt, a heavy wool coat, a polarguard vest, a Balaclava, a pair of gloves and a poncho. The poncho had been used to cover both while they were huddled together.

Katchmar stated that it began snowing lightly on and off approximately two pitches up the climb. He said it did not hinder their climbing. The weather was pretty good when they started climbing, but got worse during the day. When they reached the notch, it began snowing heavily and was extremely windy. The next morning there were three to four inches of snow on the rock. Also, there was a lot of running water.

Katchmar stated that he had rock climbed in Maryland Rock State Park, Seneca Rocks and the Shawangunks. He had also ice climbed in Maryland and Colorado. He had done two semitechnical climbs on high mountains around Durango, Colorado. This was his first attempt of a difficult technical route on a mountain. Katchmar said he did all the leading and DeMuro followed. He said DeMuro did not lead, but was an avid follower. DeMuro had technical rock climbing experience but no technical mountain climbing experience. DeMuro had done some walk up peaks in Yellowstone.

Katchmar stated that he did not expect the snow. He also did not know the other routes around him which might have made the descent easier. He had read the Owen- Spaulding Route description as the descent route. He felt that to ascend to the beginning of this standard descent route would be impossible. He did not realize that

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