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Fall on Rock, Climbing Alone, Inexperience, Wyoming, Tetons


Wyoming, Tetons

Michael Knofler (45) was a West German of intermediate climbing ability and experience. On the morning on July 2, 1981, he came into the Jenny Lake Ranger Station to sign out for a climb of the West Face of the Grand Teton. As Climbing Ranger Hogan talked with him, it became apparent that Knofler had no idea of the difficulties involved and had decided on

the West Face solely from photographs he had seen in the Ranger Station. Hogan convinced him that the Owen-Spalding or Exum routes were more within his abilities and recommended that he try to find a climbing partner.

That afternoon Knofler returned to the Ranger Station and explained that he had been unable to find a climbing partner. Hogan then recommended the Southwest Couloir (Grade II, F3) on the Middle Teton and explained the route, approach, and camping areas. Knofler registered to climb that route on July 3 and return the same day.

On July 3, Knofler hiked to the South-Middle saddle with two other climbers, Mike and Terry Howard. The other climbers pointed out the Southwest Couloir to Knofler and warned him not to climb the other couloirs because they were much steeper. They then parted and Knofler started up the South Teton; the other two headed up the Southwest Couloir on the Middle Teton.

Knofler never checked in from his climb. When his car was found to be gone (it was parked in a different lot than he had indicated on his registration), the climbing rangers assumed that he had returned but failed to sign in.

Knofler’s lifeless body was spotted on July 13 in the Ellingwood Couloir by another climbing party, which then reported it to a climbing ranger on the Garnet Canyon trail. The body was recovered by the Jenny Lake rescue team that day.

Knofler’s pack and one crampon were found higher up in the Ellingwood Couloir. His ice ax was strapped to the outside of his pack; his crampons had been torn from the straps on top of his pack. Knofler was clad in normal mountaineering clothing. A chipped and cracked Bell toptex climbing helmet was on his head. His pack contained normal day-use equipment but no flashlight. He had fallen at least 500 feet, perhaps more.

Evidently, after attempting or climbing the South Teton, Knofler then attempted to climb the Middle Teton, perhaps the same day. He probably reached the summit and left the Southwest Couloir to descend, either accidentally because of darkness, or to reach what looked like a shortcut back to his camp. While downclimbing he slipped and fell to his death. (Source: Craig Patterson, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)


An investigation of Knofler’s background revealed that on a previous occasion, Knofler had fallen while solo climbing in the Swiss Alps and had sustained serious head injuries which required a long period of recuperation in the hospital. This must have instilled some sense of caution in him, since he wore a hard hat in the Tetons. However, despite all the information given him, he still climbed a route that he was cautioned against. Why he made this choice will never be known. (Source: Craig Patterson, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)