FALL ON SNOW, UNABLE TO SELF-ARREST
The Koven route on Mount Owen is one of the most popular due to its easy access from the Teton Glacier. From the glacier, the route climbs over moderate terrain to the Koven Couloir, a narrow 45- to 50-degree snow chute between the East Prong and the main body of Mount Owen; it then continues on to the summit block.
On August 25, 1982, Peter Krack and Mark Pearson set out to climb the Koven. They headed to the Teton Glacier where they set up their high camp. From there, they left early on August 26, reaching the base of the couloir about 0800. The pair were over halfway up the couloir, climbing unroped on the “soft, rotten snow,” when Pearson said he heard a sliding sound and saw Krack slide down the chute in self-arrest, hit a rock band, and disappear.
Pearson began to descend and found Krack in some rocks with facial and head injuries, a possible back injury and a possible fractured knee. Pearson then went for help and encountered off-duty ranger Jim Woodmency ascending the route.
Since Woodmency did not have a radio, Pearson continued; Woodmency climbed to Krack and provided medical care, extra clothes and assurance until the rescue was complete.
At 1330, Pearson reached the Jenny Lake Ranger Station and reported the accident. Rescue Coordinator Ed Thompson ordered the contract Hughes 500D helicopter from Fort Washakie and assembled a rescue team of Rangers Barb Eastman, Chuck Harris, Peter Hollis, Leo Larson, Anne Macquarie, and Steve Rickert. The helicopter arrived, piloted by Rick Farnsworth, and began ferrying rescuers to Mount Owen.
Farnsworth, a former military pilot and instructor, was able to drop the rescuers on an incredible rock promontory directly next to the couloir and only 130 meters below the victim. This superb mountain flying, which resulted in a great saving of time, probably prevented the victim from spending the night on the mountain. The alternative would have been to climb up from the great glacier.
Upon reaching Krack, the rescuers further splinted his injuries, provided IV therapy and began the evacuation. One technical 100-meter lowering brought Krack to a ledge system roughly level with the helispot. A traverse was then made to the promontory where Farnsworth was again able to touch down on the rock which resembled half a boxcar suspended 300 meters above the Teton Glacier.
Krack was flown to Lupine Meadows, where he was further stabilized, and then transported to St. John’s Hospital in Jackson. (Source: Ed Thompson, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)
The Koven route saw at least three falls during the summer of 1982. All of them resulted in some injury; Krack’s was the worst. In all three cases, the climbers involved reported that they had slipped and attempted to self-arrest but were unable to stop themselves. On steep snow slopes, and any snow slopes that end in rocks or cliffs, it is imperative that climbers be able to initiate a quick, effective self-arrest or, better yet, set an ice ax “self-belay” that precludes a fall. It is also important that climbers be able to evaluate snow conditions, since arrests are often next to impossible in rotten or granular snow or on hard ice. The fact that these climbers were unroped is irrelevant as a safety factor since the route is almost always climbed in this manner. Furthermore, given the snow conditions, it is quite probable that Pearson would merely have been pulled off the route had the pair been roped up. (Source: Ed Thompson, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)
(Editor’s Note: In a letter to the U.S. editor, Ranger Craig Patterson said the following: “Of the accidents reported this year, half of them were due to falls and failure of self-arrest on snow. I’m concerned that, with the present intense interest in hard rock climbs and steep ice climbs, beginning and intermediate mountaineers may be neglecting their basic skills in steep snow travel.”)