American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Climbing Unroped — Wyoming, Tetons

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


Wyoming, Tetons

On August 11, 1982, Randall Melvin (32) was a student in an ice-climbing seminar on the Teton Glacier. Melvin had just completed climbing a belayed ice pitch and was traversing, unroped, across a six-meter section of 45-degree ice to easier ground. The traverse was protected by a handline. All the other students in the class had crossed successfully but Melvin slipped and failed to hold onto the handline. He fell approximately 20 meters down the ice.

A member of the party ran to Amphitheater Lake and contacted Rangers Doward and Harris, who then notified the Jenny Lake Ranger Station by radio and returned to the accident scene. Rangers Jackson and Burgette were flown to the scene in a Bell 206BIII helicopter piloted by Roger Kjerstad. The victim was given first aid and lowered 200 meters down the glacier to a landing site from which he was flown directly to St. John’s Hospital, accompanied by Ranger Harris. They arrived at the hospital at 1830. Melvin’s injuries included three broken ribs, a fractured pelvis, and a possible fracture of the transverse process of his twelfth thoracic vertebra. (Source: Bob Irvine, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)


Seven students had successfully preceded Melvin across the ice traverse using the handline but no hand tools. When Melvin began the traverse, he was using one ice tool and, thus, had only one hand free; this was inadequate to hold onto the fixed line when he slipped. If he had had both hands free, he might have been able to hold on. A more positive method of protection would have been to clip in, using a runner between his climbing harness and the handline. (Source: Craig Patterson, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

This ANAM article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.