American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Skis, Unable to Self-Arrest, Inexperience, Wyoming, Tetons

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

FALL ON SKIS, UNABLE TO SELF-ARREST, INEXPERIENCE

Wyoming, Tetons

Mark Stewart (24), Jeff Zell (26) and William Bowman (32) had decided during the winter that they wanted to ski the east face of Teewinot. Zell said that he and Stewart worked together on May 4 from about 0600 to 1700 for Intermountain Roofers in Jackson. Zell and Stewart went to Zell’s house after work and decided to leave that night to ski Teewinot. Bowman joined them around 2130, and the three completed packing their gear by 2200. Zell and Bowman said that they wanted to climb during the night to take advantage of the hard snow conditions. All three took downhill skis, ice axes and crampons. They left Jackson about 2300 and drove to Lupine Meadows.

They hiked up through the trees on the south side of the main east face gully. Their progress was made without headlamps due to the bright moonlight. They walked on hard snow and reached the Apex at 0230. They spent an hour or less at the Apex, eating and changing clothes. Zell indicated that they became a little chilled, but that none of them was tired.

They then started up the large snowfield leading up to and past (on the right) the Idol and Worshiper pinnacles. They were all wearing crampons, using their ice axes and carrying their skis on their packs. They had stopped on the snow above the pinnacles because the moon had set and it was too dark to continue. Zell stated that he wanted to turn back because he was uneasy about the hard snow and darkness. Zell and Bowman said that all three were still feeling strong, and remarked that Stewart was the strongest of all.

The three started moving again for the summit about 0530, when it became light enough to see. All were in high spirits. Zell said that he felt all right again about the terrain once it became light. All three reached the summit about 0730. Bowman and Zell said that they

spent about an hour on the summit before starting down.

All three put on their skis just below the summit. They found the snow hard and “crack- ly” underneath. They said that the snow was hard enough that their skis left little, if any, marks in the snow. Because of this, they sideslipped down. Bowman said that they went through one narrow, tricky section just below the summit, finding the snow hard, smooth and consistent.

Upon reaching the notch and skyline ridge south of the summit, Bowman began to sidestep down because of the steepness and hard snow. Shortly thereafter, Bowman took his skis off in order to walk down this top section of the couloir. Zell took a line further to the south, and stated that he was able to keep his skis on, but did take out his ice ax because of the steepness and hard snow. Bowman moved down by moving his skis from rock to rock with his hands.

Bowman said that Stewart took the same line that he did, but he kept his skis on and didn’t take out his ice ax right away. Zell was not below Bowman and Stewart and was able to look up at them from around a corner. Zell said he told Stewart to take his skis off and take out his ice ax. He did, but Zell remarked that Stewart looked confused about how to manage the ax because he was holding his ski poles in one hand and the ax in the other.

Bowman said that he reached a narrow portion in the couloir where the rock walls were over a meter wide. In this section was a broken area of snow and rock on the floor of the couloir. This section was very short and covered a vertical drop of about two meters, though it was about the same angle as the rest of the couloir. Bowman climbed down through this, finding the going difficult because they were wearing ski boots, not mountain boots.

Bowman saw Stewart at the top of this section with his skis nearly perpendicular to the fall line. Bowman thought that Stewart was no more than 3 meters above him. Both Zell and Bowman heard Stewart say, “I’m going to try something.” Stewart then said to Zell, in essence, “Jeff, what to you think if I just jump down?”

Zell said that he again told Stewart to take off his skis and walk down. At this point Bowman was holding onto the rock wall on the north side of the couloir. Stewart disregarded Zell’s instructions, turned his skis downhill and jumped over the short broken section.

Bowman and Zell watched Stewart land on his skis below the broken section, but almost immediately Stewart fell backwards and began to slide down the steep, hard snow of the couloir.

Zell and Bowman observed Stewart attempt to use his ice ax. However, Stewart’s descent was rapid and he bounced a great deal; he was unable to arrest his fall. Zell and Bowman watched him fall/slide a long distance down the couloir.

Zell continued his descent on skis, but it took him 20 to 30 minutes to reach Stewart. Zell found Stewart unresponsive, bleeding heavily about the head and face, and without a detectable carotid pulse. Bowman was still making his way down when Zell said he left to get help. Zell proceeded down to Lupine Meadows, flagged down a car, and was driven to the Moose visitor center, arriving at 1000.

Bowman reached Stewart about 45 to 60 minutes after the fall. He observed no life signs in Stewart. Bowman could see their truck in Lupine Meadows. After about two hours, the truck was still there. Bowman thought that Zell would take the truck to report the accident. When the truck hadn’t moved in two hours, Bowman was afraid that something had happened on the way down. That’s why he too left the scene. Bill Bowman arrived at Beaver Creek at 1153. Bowman provided information that confirmed Zell’s initial report.

At 1215 Ranger Burgette reached Stewart and confirmed that he was dead. At 1245, Burgette and Patterson completed preparations to sling load Stewart’s body and the helicopter left Beaver Creek for the scene. The ship brought the body out to Beaver Creek at 1300. The operation was concluded at 1320. (Source: Reports and interview by Peter Arm- ington, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

Analysis

Zell and Bowman both characterized Stewart as an expert downhill skier. In the previous three weeks, Stewart had skied the east face of Buck mountain twice, once with Zell and once with Bowman. Bowman said that Stewart had skied the Skillet Glacier on Mt. Moran in 1984.

Bowman said that Stewart had borrowed the ice ax and crampons that he used on the climb. He said that none of them were technical climbers and that all three of them had minimal training and qualifications with an ice ax and crampons. (Source: Interview by Peter Armington, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

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