AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Overdue Climbers—Off Route, Inadequate Equipment, Party Separated, Inexperience, Exhaustion, Dehydration, Utah, Wasatch Mountains, Lisa Falls Couloir


Utah, Wasatch Mountains, Lisa Falls Couloir

On June 26, the Salt Lake County Sheriff's SAR team was notified that two members, from an original group of five mountaineers, were overdue and presumed lost or injured. The trip had begun the previous day, with a group of five climbers, which started an ascent up Tanners Gulch to the Big Cottonwood Ridge, west to Twin Peak, and then a planned descent down the Lisa Falls couloir, back to the canyon highway. This climb is known as “Cathedral Traverse,” and in the spring or early summer, ice axes and ropes are strongly recommended.

Two of the members were moving somewhat slower than the rest of the group, and a decision was made to split up, with the faster three moving ahead, and ultimately, completing the route in the dark, on June 25. One rope and one ice ax were left with the slower two members. Just before dark one of the climbers in the lead group thought that he saw two people rappelling down a steep snow field above and behind them.

The following day, after the SAR team arrived, a lengthy interview was conducted with the complainants and it was learned that the two missing parties consisted of Bill Foster, most experienced and the team leader, and Susan Ryan, least experienced and a first timer for this kind of trip. Since a possible sighting had been made the night before, a search team was started up the Lisa Falls couloir, and the Sheriffs helicopter was dispatched to conduct an air search of the entire route.

After several hours of searching the Sheriff's helicopter spotted the two missing climbers, still high and near the top of the Lisa Falls couloir. The ground search team that had been dispatched earlier reached the two parties about an hour later. Both individuals were totally exhausted and dehydrated, but otherwise okay. Nearly six hours were required to assist the exhausted climbers back to the trail head.


An interview was conducted with the two individuals and it was learned that shortly after separating from the main group, Susan became very intimidated by the exposure and was very tired as well. They spent a cold night just below the summit of the East Twin Peak (11,300 feet). They began moving down the next morning, but found the snow very firm and difficult with just one ice ax. Their progress was slow, and as they descended, they said that they saw the rescue helicopter several times, but were not successful in signaling it. (They were not the same party seen rappelling the night before.) The rescue team noted that both parties moved very slowly and had a difficult time with the Class 4 terrain. At times, simple commands had to be repeated, apparently due to their exhaustion and dehydration. (Source: G. Banks, Salt Lake County Sheriff SAR)