American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Off Route, Inadequate Clothing, Exposure, Wyoming, Grand Teton

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1992


Wyoming, Grand Teton

On August 14, Douglas Cairns (36) and Daniel Cousins (30) decided to attempt the North Ridge after having failed to find their way to the Black Ice Couloir, their original objective. They were forced to bivouac above the “Slab” pitch and woke on the morning of the 15th to foggy, white-out conditions. They gained the Second Ledge which offers an easy traverse off the mountain. Coming upon some old slings, they believed them to be a well-used anchor point and chose to rappel. This put them in the middle of the West Face route. They were unable to pull their ropes. Realizing that the rappel had been a mistake, Cairns spent a couple of hours prussiking back up the rope. Cousins was unable to prussik up the ropes due to his already deteriorating condition.

At 1330, Exum guide Jim Williams called Jenny Lake Ranger Station from the Lower Saddle and reported that another party had informed him that they had heard calls for help while they were descending the Owen-Spalding route.

At 1650 Williams called in again and reported that he had made visual contact with a climber in need of assistance on the Second Ledge.

After helicopter flights of equipment and personnel to the Lower Saddle, Rangers Alexander and Jackson reached Cairns at 1950. Twenty minutes later, Jackson reached Cousins who was still hanging from locked prussik slings and had an oral temperature of 90.5 F. Cousins was raised to the Second Ledge and was able to walk to a position where he could be short-hauled off the mountain. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance at 2100. Cairns was escorted to the Lower Saddle. (Source: Renny Jackson, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)


Unfamiliarity with the mountain and very poor weather caused this party to make a sequence of decisions that left them helpless. The timely radio call from Exum Guide Service and the very fast and effective response by the National Park rescue team probably saved Cousins’ life. (Source: Renny Jackson, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

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