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Fall on Rock, Climbing Alone, No Hard Hat, Weather, Wyoming, Tetons

FALL ON ROCK, CLIMBING ALONE, NO HARD HAT, WEATHER

Wyoming, Tetons

On August 31, 1985, at 1100, John H. Sheppard (35) registered for a climb of the Skillet Glacier on Mount Moran. Sheppard intended to camp the night of the 31st in the drainage below the Skillet, climb the glacier on September 1, and then return that night.

A permits check on September 2 indicated that Sheppard had not signed in from the climb. His vehicle was located still parked at the String Lake trailhead. When Sheppard still had not returned at 1430, a search was initiated. At 1445, Ranger Harrington was flown to the area and spotted Sheppard’s camp at an elevation of 2425 meters. Clouds on the upper portions of Mt. Moran precluded an aerial recon of the upper portion of the glacier. The helicopter landed near the camp and dropped off Harrington, who found the camp unattended and containing the overnight gear of one person. Harrington was directed to climb up to the glacier.

At 1640, Ranger Gagner was airlifted to the Skillet moraine to join the search. At 1710, Ranger Harrington found Sheppard’s body near the bottom handle of the Skillet, at an elevation of 3275 meters.

At 1740, Ranger Jackson was airlifted to the scene to take photographs and assist in the body recovery. The body was flown out to Lupine Meadows at 1915 in a sling load. The body was turned over to the Teton County coroner at that time. (Source: Robert Irvine, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

Analysis

On September 3, Rangers Perch and Gagner were assigned to climb the Skillet Glacier to the summit of Moran to try and uncover additional information on how Sheppard was killed. They found Sheppard’s ice ax at an elevation of 3400 meters. They found no further evidence of Sheppard’s climbing. The only other evidence of his high point was the last picture on the film in his camera, which was recovered on his body. The picture appeared to have been taken from an elevation of about 3515 meters. We can only surmise that Sheppard fell from an elevation of 3515 meters or higher.

Sheppard was an experienced and apparently competent climber. He had good judgment and was reasonably clothed. He had at least five years’ climbing experience in the Teton range and had climbed a number of routes here. The route he was attempting was not particularly difficult and required only reasonable skill with the use of an ice ax and crampons. There are three other factors which are relevant:

Sheppard had not been actively climbing the past five years. He had gained weight since he was last here in 1981 and appeared to his friends to be “out of shape.”

The weather on September 1 was not good. Another party reported snow and rain on Mt. Moran beginning about 1130. A large thunderstorm came in about 1900 and lasted about one hour. Significant precipitation and lightning accompanied this storm. Precipitation on Mt. Moran greatly increases the danger from rockfall. Sheppard’s last photograph shows the upper portion of the glacier into which he was climbing obscured by clouds.

He was climbing alone and without a helmet. His injuries were apparently not severe and would have been undoubtedly less had he been wearing a helmet. A climbing partner might have been able to give him enough assistance to have saved his life.

(Source: Robert Irvine, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)