American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Overdue, Off Route, Exceeding Abilities, Poor Position, Weather, Wyoming, Tetons

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1990


Wyoming, Tetons

On July 27, 1989, I (Ranger Scott Berhenfield) noticed that Harry Barcalow (28) and Michael Volkov (31) were overdue from their climb of the East Ridge of the Grand Teton. Ranger Randy Harrington, who signed them out to climb, told me that they appeared inexperienced and had not climbed the mountain before. Burcalow and Volkov had signed out on July 23 and were planning on returning on the 26th. The length of time they were planning to take also gave us an indication of their inexperience. During the time they were out, several significant thunder storms passed through the area, which gave us additional cause for concern. Another confusing factor was that Ranger Lanny Johnson said that when he talked to them in the Jenny Lake Ranger Station, they told him they might look at climbing the North Face of the Grand Teton. This route was in bad condition due to the weather. The prediction was for more bad weather.

For all of these reasons, I started an extensive search of both the East Ridge and North Face of the mountain. Their camp was located at the base of the East Ridge on July 27 about 1400. Their sleeping bags were in their tent.

NPS climbing Rangers spotted the climbers from the air about 1500 just south of the Second Tower on the East Ridge. They were off route and descending a very dangerous gully.

Since we could not land where the climbers were, we slingloaded some food and a radio in to them. We then flew two climbing rangers to the base of Teepee’s Snow Field where they could watch the climbers and talk to them by radio. We were convinced that if they continued down the gully they would very likely be injured by rock fall. While trying to traverse out of the gully, Volkov fell and was momentarily knocked unconscious when he slipped on a wet rock. A severe thunder storm was in the area that deposited five centimeters of rain in the valley.

Due to the weather, rock fall hazard and approaching darkness, we decided it was too dangerous to get rescuers to Volkov and Burcalow’s location. Park ranger Kimbrough talked to Volkov by radio and told him that we wanted them to find a place to bivouac, which they did. We flew two more rangers to the base of Teepee’s snowfield so that they could get to the climbers in the morning.

After an 0500 start, rangers Woodmency, Jackson, Kimbrough and Ortenberger reached the climbers at 1000. At 1800, the four climbing rangers arrived at the base camp of the East Ridge with Volkov and Burcalow. After breaking down the camp, all of the climbers were flown to the Lupine Meadows Rescue Cache. (Source: Scott Berhenfield)

(Editor's Note: The rescue staff response to these overdue climbers undoubtedly prevented a much more serious consequence.

There were only four other accidents and one more overdue requiring SAR personnel in Grand Teton National Park during 1989. The climbing cases included a slip on snow above the meadows in Garnet Canyon, two falls descending from the Grand, and a climber dislodging a boulder which pinned and fractured her fibula. All these involved inexperienced people.

In any case, this was the year of least rescue activity since such operations began.)

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