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Loss of Control—Voluntary Glissade, Inadequate Equipment, Heavy Pack, Inexperience — Wyoming, Tetons


Wyoming, Tetons

George Cooney (25) was part of a nine member group of instructors from an outdoor adventure program who had come to the Tetons on their time off for some climbing. Arriving on September 26, 1984, the group spent the following two weeks doing various ascents, and on October 1, Cooney and another member practiced “ice ax braking.” On October 9, Cooney and Landon Fake climbed the Exum Direct, and on the 10th they took a rest day and practiced glissading and “braking.”

On October 11, the group decided to return to the valley because of deteriorating weather. All but Cooney and Fake took the fixed rope route. Fake descended the snow field in a sitting glissade, and upon reaching the bottom, called to Cooney to “come down in a self-arrest position.” He was about a third of the way down when he lost control and tumbled to the bottom. During the fall, his ice ax inflicted a mortal wound in his chest. (Source: John Krambrink and Craig Patterson, Rangers, Grand Teton National Park)


Fake and Cooney had descended the slope the afternoon before, when the snow was not firm and icy, as it typically was during the morning hours. Cooney was wearing sneakers and carrying a 30 kilogram pack at the time of the accident. He had limited practice in self-arrest technique, and was using a borrowed Chouinard Zero (55 centimeter) ice ax. Short axes, though commonly used on steep slopes, can be more difficult to control for the inexperienced. (Source: John Krambrink, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)