RAPPEL ANCHOR FAILURE, FAILURE TO TEST ANCHOR, INAD EQUATE PROTECTION, WEATHER
Wyoming, Middle Teton
On July 31, 1984, Daniel Meteer (30) and Christopher Page (32) were retreating from an unsuccessful climb of the North Ridge of Middle leton. In the vicinity of Bonney’s Pinnacle on the North Ridge, Meteer was rappelling from a single rock horn anchor. The rock pulled loose and Meteer fell about 80 meters to his death.
The following account of the details comes from an interview with Christopher Page.
On July 30, around 0730, Page and Meteer got up and went to the Jenny Lake Ranger Station to get their backcountry and climbing permit. Page said that they originally intended to spend five nights camped at the Lower Saddle, but found out that they had to alter these plans due to camping night limitations. They had bought an Aspenglow guide for the North Ridge of the Middle Teton. They already had two other climbing guide books to the Tetons in their possession.
Page and Meteer had decided to climb the North Ridge of the Middle Teton first. They thought this would be an easy warm-up climb, well within their abilities, that would prepare them for more difficult climbs. Neither he nor Meteer asked the climbing rangers in the station for information on the route. Page said that both of them had meticulously studied the route description for the North Ridge from the guidebook. They felt like they knew the route thoroughly.
The left the Lupine Meadows trailhead between 0830 and 0900 after reorganizing their gear. They were in no hurry because they knew it was an easy trip to the meadows in Garnet Canyon, where they were going to spend the first night.
The two reached the meadows early in the afternoon. They established their camp and then lay in the sun and socialized with other climbers. Page stated that they reveiwed the guidebook(s) especially the North Ridge. The weather that afternoon was clear, and they had time to prepare a good meal that night. They went to bed as darkness fell.
They got up early the next day, about 0600. They had a breakfast of instant milk, granola, dried apricots and Tang, then packed up their camp and hiked up to the camping area on the morraine, establishing camp on the lower third of it.
Then they continued up toward the Lower Saddle with day packs and climbing gear. When they left the morraine, the weather was beginning to cloud up, but was not threatening. Page said that the two “buzzed up” to the Lower Saddle, as a result of their now light packs, arriving around noon, where they rested and ate lunch.
During their lunch on the Saddle, Page recalled that the weather was windy, no rain and scattered clouds. Meteer remarked to Page that they had plenty of time for the climb.
They left the Saddle and started to climb the North Ridge. They roped up for the first time at the notch between Pinnochio Pinnacles and Bonney’s Pinnacles. Page said that he took the first lead, running out the rope a full lead above the notch. They remained roped together after this pitch, but did not use belays on the easier ground they were now on.
They reached the left edge of the northwest gulley. Page said they felt good because the climb was going well. Because of their study of the route description, they were staying on route. In the gulley, they found relatively hard snow and ice. Meteer led up the gulley by jamming in the shallow moat separating the rock wall from the snow.
Page stated that Meteer was uncomfortable on the snow and exited the gulley well below the notch referred to in the guidebook. Page realized that Meteer had exited too early; however, he then followed Meteer’s lead. Page stated that outside the gulley they encountered hard rock terrain. They attempted to make this route go without success, then returned to the gulley. They continued up the gulley, on proper route, to the exit notch referred to in the guidebook. The weather started to worsen as they reached the large rappel block at the top of the gulley.
Meteer led the first pitch out of the gulley. Page said that he followed slowly, with his ice ax pointing upwards on the back of his pack. As Page climbed toward Meteer, it started to thunder and lightning, although it rained only lightly. Well before reaching Meteer, a bolt of lightning struck in the area and Page said that he received a significant shock.
Page was not injured by the shock, but it scared him profoundly. He reached Meteer who was surprised to hear of the shock to Page. Meteer told Page that he had felt no shock and had been unaffected by the shock of the lightning strike.
Because of the lightning experience, Page initiated and pushed for an immediate retreat. By this time it was raining and hailing hard. Page doubled their one 50 meter rope and rappelled first back into the head of the gulley. Meteer followed and according to Page was in favor of continuing the retreat.
Page stated that Meteer rappelled first on both rappels down the gulley. For both of these rappels, they used fixed anchors. Exiting the gulley onto easier terrain, the weather abated and the sun came out. Page recalls Meteer remarking about how lovely and brilliant the sun was against the storm clouds.
They proceeded unroped across the easier terrain outside the gulley, but found the rock wet and slippery. They did two very short rappels on this section, strictly because of the wet rock. At least one of the rappels was also fixed, and Meteer went first on each.
They reached the steep rock wall that forms the north side of the tower above Bonney’s Pinnacle. This is the same area that Page had led their first roped pitch earlier in the day. Sloping, ever-steepening terrain led down to the more vertical wall. They both looked around for a rappel anchor, examining three rock horns to use as an anchor.
Meteer selected a horn jutting out of the dirt/gravel and rock ground. Page recalled that the horn stuck up about 30 centimeters. Meteer placed a white sling around the horn. Page watched him do this. When asked whether Meteer struck or shook the horn to test it, Page replied that Meteer did not do either. Page stressed that the horn looked like a “bomber” (bomb proof), and appeared to be the best of the three horns.
Page observed Meteer run the rope through the sling. The webbing on the single horn was the only anchor for the rappel. Meteer clipped into the rope and started to back down. The start of the rappel was easy because the terrain was not that steep. Page said that Meteer looked at the anchor as he started down. Meteer took his time and went easy. Page estimated that Meteer was approximately three to four meters from the anchor horn when the anchor failed. Page was standing next to the anchor and had a clear, head-on view of Meteer.
The rock horn pulled out of the ground. Page thought that the rough dimensions of the anchor rock might have been one meter by ? meter. Page said that the rock horn tipped forward under Meteer’s weight and came out of the ground. Page was looking directly at Meteer, and that it appeared that Meteer saw what was happening.
When the anchor failed, Meteer was facing directly into the rock and had not yet reached the steep headwall. As the anchor failed, Page saw Meteer start to turn his back toward the wall. He observed Meteer reach up for a handhold and then start to bump downwards, ultimately disappearing from Page’s sight over the lip of the headwall. Page recounted that there was a loud sound of rock falling in the couloir/ chimney below where Meteer had disappeared from his sight. Page estimates that this occurred at 1630.
He started yelling repeatedly for Meteer and got no response. Page prayed that his friend would stop on a ledge. He realized that Meteer was either dead or seriously injured, and when his calls got no response he decided to downclimb without a rope.
He downclimbed to the east, roughly following the route that he had led roped earlier in the day. He kicked loose a large rock accidentally and yelled, “Rock.” He proceeded methodically and slowly, ultimately reaching the notch that had been the intended terminus for the last rappel. He started to scramble down the chimney/gul- ley leading down from the notch, but retreated when the terrain steepened. He again hollered for Meteer with no response.
Page succeeded in climbing down to the Lower Saddle where he met two unidentified campers. He quickly told them what had happened and asked them to do what they could. He then continued down Garnet Canyon after determining that there were no rangers or radios at the Lower Saddle. He met a party of three with a nurse below the Lower Saddle. He again quickly recounted what had happened.
Page said he met Dean Moore, an Exum guide, on the lower half of the morraine. He told Moore about the accident. Page reached the Meadows at 1745, where he got a fresh person to run down to Jenny Lake to report the accident. Page was escorted back down by other people at the Meadows. (Source: Peter Armington, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)
Ranger Peter Armington interviewed Nanette Meteer by phone at her residence in Utah. Mrs. Meteer described David as being in excellent physical shape. He routinely gave blood and had a very low blood pressure. When he played football at BYU, he had the lowest fat content of any person on the football team. She stated that her husband ran three to four kilometers every morning and lifted weights three nights a week. She described him as two meters plus in height and 108 kilograms. She said he was in excellent mental health, was a deeply religious person who taught classes at church, and always had a positive attitude.
He had been climbing for about four years. He took classes from BYU and the Timberline Shop in Salt Lake during the first two years, but had taken no classes recently. She stated that during this summer, David had gone climbing at least twice a week in the local Salt Lake area, and would always recount his climbing adventures to her. He told her of leading F5 to F7 climbs. He had an extensive mountaineering library, kept a journal of all his climbs, and had his sights on a number of climbs to do, including the Grand Teton and Mount Rainier. (Source: From the report by Peter Armington, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)
(Editor’s Note: The reason Meteer did not test his anchor or seek a back up can only be found in Page’s comment that Meteeer believed the one rock horn to be totally adequate.)