American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Climbing Unroped, Inexperience, Wyoming, Grand Teton

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1991

FALL ON ROCK, CLIMBING UNROPED, INEXPERIENCE

Wyoming, Grand Teton

About 2400 on June 26, Stephen Stenger and Arthur Leech (34) left the Lupine Meadows trailhead intending to attempt a one day ascent of the North Ridge of the Grand Teton. They registered their climb with the Jenny Lake Ranger Station.

They encountered difficult conditions on the route. They climbed as high as the “Chockstone,” about three or four pitches above the top of the Grandstand. At this point they decided to abandon their attempted ascent and retreated back to the top of the Grandstand. From there, they descended unroped down the Grandstand toward the Teton Glacier. They encountered mixed conditions of soft snow and wet, slippery rock.

About 30 vertical meters from the top of the glacier, Stenger, who was in the lead, thought he heard a strange sound. He turned around and could not see Leech behind him any more. Stenger continued downclimbing, reaching the top of the glacier at the base of the Grandstand. He found Leech, who had fallen over a 30 meter high vertical cliff, landing on the snow of the glacier.

Stenger found his partner semi-conscious, writhing and moaning. Blood was coming from Leech’s nose and mouth. He had sustained an obvious serious head injury. Leech was clothed only in polypro tops and bottoms with a nylon shell. His climbing helmet was still on his head. Stenger spent a few brief minutes with Leech, before taking off at a run to summon help. He reached the valley floor and telephoned the sheriff s office at 2228.

The evacuation plan called for using the Lama to shorthaul Leech from his point of rest to a helispot on the lower end of the glacier. He was then to be transferred into the ship and flown to Lupine Meadows. A BK-117 helicopter, with medical flight crew, would then transport him directly to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

The Lama arrived at Lupine at 0620. At 0637, a sling load containing the shorthaul pre-rig litter was sling loaded to the accident site. At 0722, Leech was lifted from the accident site and shorthauled to the helispot on the lower portion of the glacier. He was then flown to Lupine Meadows, arriving at 0732. Leech was transferred to the BK-117 which departed for Idaho Falls at 0741.

Leech was admitted to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center suffering from facial fractures, a pneumothorax, a concussion and numerous wounds to the skin. Due to the intervention the night before, his rectal temperature was 37.2 C. (Source: Peter Armington, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

Analysis

It is extraordinary that Leech survived his fall. The fact that he lay on snow seriously injured with minimal clothing for about seven hours before the first rangers arrived on scene makes his survival even more remarkable.

He wore a climbing helmet, which remained on his head after the fall. The helmet was seriously damaged and no doubt contributed to his survival.

Leech had minimal experience in serious alpine climbing. The Grandstand was covered with snow broken with wet, slippery and loose rock. It is unknown what actually caused him to fall, although he was wearing a heavy pack. His and his partner’s decision not to rope the descent almost proved to be fatal. (Source: Peter Armington, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

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