American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Inadequate Protection, Wyoming, Tetons

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1984


On August 27, Steve Gorham (25), Paul Wade (24), and Kevin Patno (25) were climbing “The Snaz” when Patno, who was leading the pitch above the crux, broke off a large rock and fell. Gorham was belaying with the rope just around his waist and not through any carabiners. The rope went over his back as Patno went by, and Gorham eventually stopped the fall with one hand on the rope. Patno was about three meters above the belayer when he fell, and he finally stopped about ten meters below the belayer.

The party was anchored to a single fixed pin and the slack in the belayer’s tiedown allowed him to be pulled off the belay ledge. Wade was also tied down loosely and he too was pulled off the ledge. Eventually the ropes were untangled and Patno climbed back to the belay ledge. The party then was able to rappel to the base of the route, arriving there at 1600. Patno had suffered torn ligaments in his foot, as well as numerous bruises and abrasions, while Gorham received a severe rope burn on his right hand.

The party began to hobble back to the trail and Wade ran on ahead to report the accident. He called dispatch by phone at 1920 from the Whitegrass Ranch. Rangers Rickert and Johnson started up the trail with medical gear followed shortly by Burgette, McLaughlin, Woodmency and Speckman with the trail wheel litter. The victims were met on the trail at 2017. Patno was then wheeled about one kilometer to Phelps Lake. Both victims were taken across the lake, arriving at the dock at 2245. Wade then drove Patno and Gorham to St.John’s Hospital. (Source: Robert Irvine, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)


The use of a single piece of protection for a belay point, a rappel, or securing several people is not a standard practice any more, unless the anchor is a large treeor block of well-wedged rock. Having a long distance between the anchor points and belayer doesn’t work unless the force of pull is going to be direct and the sling material is of a nonstretch type—such as dacron. This accident could have culminated in the same manner as the similar one reported from the Adirondacks. (Source: J. Williamson)

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