American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Verglass, No Protection, Inexperience, Wyoming, Tetons

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1989

FALL ON VERGLASS, NO PROTECTION, INEXPERIENCE

Wyoming, Tetons

On August 4, 1988, 1330, Frank Richardson (45) was leading his two sons, Clark and Brad, up the Owen-Spaulding route on the Grand Teton. All three successfully climbed the double chimneys above the “Crawl,” and reached a point on the far north end of the “Catwalk.” Frank Richardson began a rope belayed lead up and right along the “Catwalk.” He found the “Catwalk” covered with some verglass. After running the rope out a short distance, he aborted this route.

Richardson backtracked a ways toward the belay, taking out protection that he had placed. Instead of going all the way back to the belay station where his sons were, he began traversing left (north) above the belay along a small ledge toward the Owen chimney. In subsequent statements, Richardson indicated that prior to entering the chimney, he directed his belaying son to take him off belay. Frank entered the chimney about 14–15 meters above the belay position of his two sons. Soon after entering the chimney, Frank encountered verglass that caused him to fall. With no belay or protection, Frank fell about 14-15 meters, coming to rest very close to his two sons. Point of rest of the fall was on a small ledge at the base of the Owen Chimney, at the very north end of the “Catwalk.”

Frank Richardson sustained the following significant injuries in the fall: a fractured pelvis, radius and multiple rib fractures with an accompanying hemothorax. The ensuing rescue was difficult and costly, as an entire sling load of rescue gear had to be jettisoned due to unstable air and the net snagging on a rock. The eventual short haul to the Lower Saddle, air ambulance to Lupine Meadows and St. John’s Hospital was completed. All personnel were secure by 2320. (Source: Peter Armington, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

Analysis

Frank Richardson stated that the climb of the Grand was the party’s first attempt at climbing in the Teton range. This climb was also his first experience at leading a roped party. Previous group experience in other areas included two years of limited top rope climbing in the Wasatch Range in his home state of Utah. Richardson indicated that he had some rope handling experience in an Outward Bound course, had done some climbing in the military and had climbed Mount Rainier in Washington. (Source: Peter Armington, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park.

(Editor’s Note: The climbing accident rate in Grand Teton National Park requiring technical rescue was less than half the usual rate. However, there were two search operations for solo hikers/scramblers—both fatalities—which cost half of the rescue budget, which this year totaled $88,000.)

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