American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow, Unable to Self-Arrest, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Teton

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1995

FALL ON SNOW, UNABLE TO SELF-ARREST

Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Teton

Late on the afternoon of June 11, 1994, Mike Tucker (43) and Bill McDonald (39) were descending the Owen Spalding route on the Grand Teton following a successful ascent of the Upper Exum Ridge. A short distance below the Upper Saddle, McDonald slipped on moderately steep snow and began sliding. McDonald slid approximately 300 feet before going over a 150 foot cliff-band, then continued sliding another 500 to 600 feet down a couloir. Tucker and another climber in the area descended to McDonald’s location. McDonald had sustained massive head trauma in the fatal fall. His body was removed from the mountain by helicopter sling load the following morning.

Analysis

McDonald was described as a good rock and ice climber who had climbed the Grand Teton several times. According to Tucker, they began their descent in good spirits, not too tired, well hydrated, and adequately clothed. McDonald was following old footsteps in the snow and, because the snow was soft enough to sink down six inches with each step, was not wearing crampons. When McDonald fell, he rolled over onto his side, holding his ice axe in both hands. Tucker stated that McDonald appeared not to take the fall seriously, possibly because the angle of the slope looked like it would cause one to stop without much effort. In spite of Tucker’s repeated yells for McDonald to roll onto his belly and weight his axe, he did not do so. Tucker added that once they had completed the 120 foot rappels (prior to their descent down the snow), they felt their problems were over. McDonald was not wearing a helmet.

This is the second fatal slide here in two years, both while descending from the upper saddle. While the terrain is not technically demanding, it warrants full attention and respect.

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