Piton Pulled Out, Fall on Rock, Removed Protection
Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Guides' Wall
On June 26, 1992, at 1145, Roland Fleck (59) was leading the “Flake Pitch” on the regular Guides’ Wall route belayed by partner Wes Mostaert. This pitch is about 500 feet off the ground and is considered to be 5.7 in difficulty. After clipping into a fixed piton, Fleck apparently then reached down and removed two other pieces of protection that he himself had placed. He body weighted the piton, applying an outward force to it at which point it suddenly pulled out of the rock. He fell 40 to 50 feet down to the ledge at the base of the pitch and sustained multiple injuries upon impact. Mostaert moved him into as stable a position as he could and began calling for help.
The Park dispatch office received a report of an accident in Cascade Canyon around 1343 and, at the time, a specific location was not known. Ranger Jim Dorward, who was just below the Forks area, ran 2.5 miles down the trail where a more precise report had led him to believe the accident was in the vicinity of Guides’ Wall. This popular rock climb is six pitches in length and is located on the lower southwest ridge of Storm Point. Dorward very quickly ascended what is the normal descent route to a point from which he could traverse a ledge to the accident site. This involved climbing nearly 1,000 vertical feet. He began an initial patient assessment at 1455.
By 1550, a helicopter departed Lupine Meadows for the accident scene. The short- haul litter and the medical and climbing equipment that it contained was delivered to the accident site. Ranger Dorward placed Fleck carefully into the litter on his injured side while the helicopter orbited nearby. Eight minutes later, Dorward successfully attached the litter to the end of the short-haul ropes. The weather at that time was quite bad with 15 mph winds and steady rain. Pilot Will Eldredge managed to accomplish this very tricky maneuver with a main rotor clearance of ten feet. After a flight of four minutes, Fleck was taken into the rescue cache and briefly tended by an air ambulance flight nurse. He was then quickly reloaded into the helicopter and flown directly to St. John’s Hospital in Jackson, arriving at 1700, where he received initial treatment. Due to the serious nature of Fleck’s multiple injuries, he was flown to the Shock Trauma unit of the LDS hospital in Salt Lake City at 2130.
It is unfortunate that Fleck decided to remove two pieces of protection and then put all of his trust in one old, presumably untested, piton.
The rescue itself was one of the most technical short-haul operations yet undertaken in Grand Teton National Park. The speed with which Ranger Jim Dorward climbed safely to the scene, the flying skills and bravery of pilot Will Eldredge and the spotting ability of Ranger Steve Rickert all combined into an effort that was nothing short of heroic. That this was done during very adverse weather conditions is nothing less than astonishing. The application of the short-haul technique has most certainly revolutionized mountain rescue in Grand Teton. (Source: Peter Armington, SAR Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)