American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Unroped, Hypothermia — Wyoming, Tetons

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1983

FALL ON ROCK, UNROPED, HYPOTHERMIA

Wyoming, Tetons

At 0400 on the morning of July 11, 1982, Dan McKay (26), a noted local skier, left the Lower Saddle in an attempt to ski down the Grand Teton on cross-country skis. He was not an experienced mountaineer although he had climbed the Grand once before via the Owen-Spaulding route. Since he couldn’t find anyone to accompany him and belay him on the harder sections, he decided to go solo. Several friends advised him not to attempt it. For years McKay had wanted to do the first three- pin descent of the Grand but he never felt the conditions were quite right. In June 1982, Rick Wyatt skied the Grand in touring gear and McKay was disappointed that he’d missed his “first.” McKay also had a deadline to meet for his column in Powder magazine. All these things came together and he decided to make the first “complete” ski descent of the Grand Teton. All previous descents had included a rappel (Wyatt downclimbed) past an overhanging section of the Stettner Couloir.) McKay didn’t seem to know that there is no continuous snow route down the mountain.

A friend convinced McKay to look at the route he intended to ski before he started down it, so he headed for the base of the Stettner Couloir instead of the Owen-Spaulding route. Evidently, when he saw that sections of it were melted out and that it was unskiable, he went out toward the lower East Face from Teepe Col looking for a route to ski. Evidence indicates that he traversed from the col on a ledge system and slipped at an exposed corner. He fell about 30 meters to the top of the Teepe Snowfield where his skis and pack were found. After sliding down the snow about 265 meters, he stopped. He had a broken arm and was unconscious. Lying on the snow in the early morning shadow of Disappointment Peak, he died of hypothermia.

The body was discovered by John McCormack on July 12 as he approached Teepe’s Pillar. He notified the rangers and, at 1400, Rangers Bob Irving and Dan Burgette were flown to the scene to recover the body. (Source: Dan Burgette, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

Analysis

This is an example of the kinds of things that can lead from a minor mishap to death. An intense desire to achieve a goal, heightened by the pressure of a deadline, can cause one to push too hard. A slip on verglas, or skis sticking out of your pack hitting rock, can cause one to fall. Not wearing a hard hat allows a bump on the head to cause one to black out. Not having a partner prevents one from being helped off the snow and rewarmed. (Source: Dan Burgette, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

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