American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Avalanche, Climbing Alone, Wyoming, Tetons

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1986

AVALANCHE, CLIMBING ALONE

Wyoming, Tetons

On February 3, 1985 Bruce Melliger (29) signed out for a solo ascent of the Southeast couloir on Mount Wister, intending to return the same day. When Melliger failed to return on the 4th, a search was initiated for him. In the afternoon, at 1447, Melliger’s body was found in a southeast-facing couloir on the east shoulder of Mount Wister. Evidence of a large, fresh avalanche ws observed in the couloir and Melliger’s body was eighty percent buried under snow. (Source: Peter Armington, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

Analysis

The avalanche forecast from the U.S. Forest Service was “Low” at all elevations and had been for at least a week. The top of the couloir, where the avalanche crown was located, is about 3175 meters in elevation. The toe of the avalanche debris was just above the pond about 2650 meters. The crown was about 12 meters below the ridgecrest.

The crown was about 15 centimeters and 30 meters long. It was a soft slab, and some of the snow along the edges moved only a meter. The slide went down the center of this shallow couloir. It was generally three to 12 meters wide until it passed the lowest rockband and was no longer in the gully. There were a couple of short rockbands in the middle of the couloir.

The victim had a working Ramar Echo 2 avalanche transceiver in the top of his pack. It had been activated.

In interviews with several of the victim’s acquaintances and friends, it was learned that (1) the climb was within Melliger’s technical capability, (2) he was in good physical condition, (3) he liked to climb alone and go “ultralight,” (4) he had completed an avalanche course in the early seventies, and (5) he was inclined to continue to climb under hazardous conditions. (Source: Several interviews conducted by Dan Burgette and Peter Armington, Rangers, Grand Teton National Park)

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