SLIP ON ROCK
On July 24, 1982, Stuart Hill (22) was accompanying Jenny Lake Ranger Leo Larson during a mountain patrol of the south ridge of Nez Perce. Helen Larson hiked in with them to the base of the climb. It was misty or rainy throughout the day, which made the rock and the surrounding terrain very wet and slippery. They began the climb two pitches below the normal start, so as to assess the weather conditions before committing themselves higher on the mountain. At the top of the second pitch there was a slippery three-meter friction slab. A series of large ledges covered with boulders, grass and stunted whitebark pine led above this to the standard starting point of the south ridge climb. After completing the two lower, wet pitches and discussing how slippery the rock was becoming with the deteriorating weather, they decided to abandon the climb and traverse off. They took off their climbing shoes and put on hiking boots for the descent.
Rather than bushwhack across the ledge at the top of the second pitch, Hill began to scramble across the wet three-meter slab below it. Larson cautioned him about the slippery rock and loose blocks. Hill acknowledged that it was like climbing in Humboldt County (northern California) but that it looked O.K. At 1215, when Larson was looking for an alternate route through the bushes, he heard the sound of boots slipping and turned to see Hill slide down the slab and fall over the cliff. Larson immediately reported the accident to the Jenny Lake Ranger Station by radio and continued his descent. He also shouted to his wife, who met him at the base of the climb. Hill had fallen approximately 100 meters and had died instantly upon impact. Larson reported the fatality by radio. The Jenny Lake rescue team completed the body recovery that afternoon. (Source: Craig Patterson, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)
Hill was an intermediate-level climber with about five years of experience. He and Larson had both been instructors for a mountain rescue course at Humboldt University. It usually rained during these courses and Larson had frequently heard Hill tell their students, “Watch out for the slippery rock; don’t go near the edge.”
Hill was well aware of the hazards of wet rock. He chose to traverse across the exposed, slippery slab instead of taking the safer, though more strenuous, route. This should serve as a reminder to all of us who “third-class” exposed rock on the approach, the descent, or during the climb. We should let our imaginations consider the consequences of a slip and, if necessary, look for a belay or a safer route. (Source: Craig Patterson, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)