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Fall on Snow, Climbing Alone, Wyoming, Tetons

FALL ON SNOW, CLIMBING ALONE

Wyoming, Tetons

On May 31, 1983, Robert Eastham (28), a moderately experienced mountaineer, signed out to climb the Skillet Glacier route on Mount Moran on June 1, returning on June 2. Because of the danger of spring avalanches, I advised Eastham to turn back if conditions seemed hazardous and to be off the mountain by 1100. He agreed with these guidelines.

Eastham successfully cramponed up the Skillet Glacier on June 1, reaching the summit at 1035. Because the snow was softening, he began his descent soon afterwards without crampons. While downclimbing the southern arm of the V at thetop of the “handle” of the Skillet, he lost his footing in a very soft section of snow and began sliding. He assumed a self-arrest position with his ice ax, but was unable to stop himself in the soft snow. When he slid into harder snow, feet first, he fractured his left ankle, but was able to self-arrest.

After the fall, he climbed across to a rock ledge on the edge of the handle around the 3700-meter elevation. He hung his cagoule on the rocks as a distress signal and bivouacked in his sleeping bag. Over the course of the next three nights, he used the flash of his camera to signal for help. The weather, which had been mostly sunny preceding the accident, now deteriorated to increasingly frequent rain and snow showers.

On June 3, when Eastham became overdue, the Jenny Lake climbing rangers glassed the east slopes of Mount Moran with a telescope in an attempt to locate Eastham, but because of the storm clouds, were unable to see him. Likewise, we were unable to observe his camera flashes at night. .

On June 4, Rangers Burgette, Dorward, Johnson, Speckman, and Woodmency began searching the east side of Mount Moran on foot. At 1335, as they were ascending the Skillet Glacier, they met Eastham, who by then had managed to descend to the base of the handle. They lowered Eastham to a heliport which they had shoveled out of the snow at the base of the Skillet. He was flown by helicopter from there to Lupine Meadows at 1715. (Source: Craig Patterson, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

Analysis

Spring thaw in the Tetons results in the kind of soft snow condition not recommended for climbing—especially steep routes. With a partner, the section on which Eastham fell might have been belayed. At least the partner could have gone for help. (Source: Craig Patterson, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)