American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Falling Rock, Failure to Test Holds, Severed Rope, No Belay, Wyoming, Tetons

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1981


Wyoming, Tetons

On August 22, 1980, Jeffrey Burns (24) and Terence Burns (22) were attempting a climb of the north ridge of Teewinot. J. Burns led the first pitch and called to T. Burns to climb up. At 12:30 p.m. T. Burns was making a move on a three-foot-square block when it came loose and he fell. The block cut one of the two 9-mm ropes being used and T. Burns plunged 30 feet into the moat at the edge of the gully below. Shortly thereafter, he felt the remaining rope pull taut and discovered that J. Burns had fallen 200 feet into the gully a rope length below.

T. Burns then climbed down to his brother, determined that he was dead, and climbed back to the valley to report the accident. The Jenny Lake Ranger Station was notified at 2:30 p.m. and four rangers were dispatched at 3:40 p.m. in the Forest Service contract helicopter.

The rescuers arrived at the accident scene at 5:20 p.m. after climbing 1,600 feet from a landing site in the bowl at the base of the Crooked Thumb couloir. The body was lowered 200 feet on snow to a site suitable for sling loading under the helicopter. The victim reached Lupine Meadows at 6:40 p.m. and the rescue team was flown out by 10 p.m.

An interview with T. Burns on August 23 revealed that J. Burns apparently had not set up a belay and was continuing to climb, even though he had yelled to T. Burns to begin climbing. (Source: Bob Irvine, Grand Teton National Park)


Another set of accidents where falling rock was involved. Note the number of these this year. The Burns case illustrates that climbing contiguously while roped oftentimes has the same effect as climbing unroped—which is to say no effect at all. (Source: J. Williamson)

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