FALLING ROCK, LOOSE ROCK, FAILURE TO TEST HOLDS
Wyoming, Wind River Range, Seneca Lake
A backpacking and climbing party of eight, all from Minnesota, left the trailhead at the Elkhart Park Guard Station, in the Winds, on July 17, 1992, at 1200. They hiked in approximately six miles and camped at Eklund Lake. On Saturday, Paul Swanson (54), Mary Anderson and Don Schulze left the group and hiked 12 miles to set up base camp for a summit attempt on Gannett Peak. They tried for the summit on Sunday, but were turned back by weather. The weather remained unsettled on Monday and Tuesday. Camp was broken on Tuesday morning, and the three started out to rejoin the rest of the party who had moved up to Seneca Lake and set up camp approximately 11 miles in from the trailhead. Swanson, Anderson and Schulze reached the camp at 1630. Swanson decided to do some boulder/rock scrambling behind camp, followed by Alex Schluender and Anderson. Upon reaching a steeper section of rock, Swanson told Schluender to wait while he checked out the rocks, which might be loose. Climbing up a little, Swanson reached up and a rock, approximately 1.5 feet by six feet, broke loose. Swanson hollered, “Rock,” and fell and tumbled about 20 to 30 feet, landing on his chest. Anderson arrived immediately and called for help. The rest of the party in camp below heard the sound of rockfall and Anderson’s call for help and arrived within ten minutes.
Swanson was conscious and lying on his stomach. Miller and Schulze took a day pack and started out for the trailhead at 1830, covering the 11 miles and arriving at the van at 2130, drove to Pinedale, and contacted the Sublette County Sheriff at 2200. Miller and Schulze were informed that helicopter flights could not be initiated at night.
Meanwhile, at the accident site, Swanson was insulated from the rock with foam pads and was covered with sleeping bags. He had stated earlier that he had no feeling in his legs and therefore the people with him were afraid to move him due to a possible spinal injury. He lost consciousness and pulse around 2000, and at that point he was turned over and CPR was administered for 20 minutes or so without results. Members of the party took turns staying with him the rest of the night. Temperatures reached the lower 30s.
The victim's body was flown out the next morning. The autopsy revealed skull fractures, massive spinal damage, broken ribs on both sides of the chest, and internal injuries.
Paul Swanson was an experienced climber with ascents of Mount Hood, Granite Peak, the Grand and Middle Teton, and the Matterhorn in Switzerland.
Looking back I do not know how to prevent something like this from happening again, other than to stay home. Paul had a feeling that the rock in the area was loose, but I’m sure not a rock of that size, and not the one he was grabbing. The size of the rock probably gave him a false sense of security. It is uncertain whether or not he was hit by the rock that was pulled loose. (Source: From a report submitted by Don Schulze)