American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Off Route, Rappel Anchor Failures—Inadequate Protection, Fall on Rock, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Teton

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

STRANDED, OFF ROUTE, RAPPEL ANCHOR FAILURES—INADEQUATE

PROTECTION, FALL ON ROCK

Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Teton

On August 18, 1994, at 0200, Jenny Lake Rangers received a 911 call regarding cries for help coming from the north side of the Grand Teton. A helicopter was launched at daylight, and following extensive reconnaissance flights, found David Gallagher in the Great West Chimney, unable to ascend or descend. During the flight, a second incident was discovered on the southwest side of the mountain. Robyn Murdock (17) had fallen while rappelling, sustaining fractures to the femur, patella, wrist and head lacerations. Jenny Lake rangers responded to the top of the Great West Chimney where one ranger rappelled down to Gallagher. He was then raised 85 feet and assisted down the mountain via the correct descent route. Rangers Leo Larson, Bill Alexander, Randy Benham, and Janet Wilts responded to Murdock’s location and with Exum Mountain Guide Rod Newcomb, who was already on scene, stabilized her injuries and evacuated her off the mountain via helicopter shorthaul.

Immediately following the rescues on the Grand, rangers evacuated another climber from the base of the Northwest Ice Couloir on the Middle Teton. This climber (name unknown) fell several hundred feet down the Northwest Couloir when his rappel anchor failed. During the fall one of his crampons caught, miraculously spinning him around and launching him into some rocks at the edge of the couloir, stopping his fall. He was able to continue down the lower portions of the North Ridge route (5.6) where he was contacted and assisted by rangers.

Analysis

Both Murdock (no or little experience) and Gallagher (moderate experience) were from the same climbing party. Following an ascent of the Upper Exum Ridge, they became off route on the standard descent. Gallagher had established a rappel anchor by slinging a block which, as Murdock began to rappel, failed. She sustained serious injury in the subsequent fall. The two other members of the climbing party stayed with Murdock while Gallagher went for help. In his quest for help, Gallagher, still off route, rappelled into the Great West Chimney where he became stuck. He was unable to ascend back up to his rappel line so spent the night on the end of his rope. Rangers who rescued Gallagher reported that the rappel anchor over the Great West Chimney was marginal.

As for the climber on the Middle Teton, again, another victim of a less than “bombproof” rappel anchor. A lucky launch out of the fall line and into adjacent rocks very likely prevented a longer, more serious trip to the base of the mountain. Despite multiple injuries, credit goes to this fellow for extricating himself down the remaining difficult sections of the North Ridge.

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