American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Climbing Alone and Unroped, No Hard Hat, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Teewinot

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996


Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Teewinot

Keith Hensler (64) was supposed to pick up a friend, Lance Brown, at the Lupine Meadows trailhead on the afternoon of September 4. When Brown arrived at the trailhead about 1830, Hensler’s car was there, but Hensler was not. Brown became concerned about his missing friend and notified dispatch around 2100. The rescue coordinator was notified and he decided to postpone further investigation until the following morning, since it was already dark and no one knew which direction Hensler had gone.

At 0715 on September 5, rangers Byerly and Culbreath were diverted from the Garnet Canyon trail to the east side of Teewinot while rehab crew members Wise, Bywater and Vergilio started up the Teewinot apex trail to search. Hensler's body was found by Byerly and Culbreath at 0950 at the 11,200 foot elevation on the east face route on Teewinot. He had apparently died as a result of a fall.

The body was retrieved in a sling load at 1210 using the contract helicopter, a 206L3 piloted by Mike Doster.


Following a September 8 mountain patrol on Disappointment Peak and the Teton Glacier area, rangers Mark Magnuson and Bobert Irvine traversed onto the East Face of Mount Teewinot to further investigate the scene of the Hensler fatality; specifically, to locate and retrieve the ice ax that was presumed to have been in the possession of Hensler at the time of his accident.

Upon locating the accident scene at approximately the 11,400 foot elevation (slightly higher than the original estimate), Magnuson and Irvine searched the area. At a point approximately 150 to 200 vertical feet above the ledge where Hensler's body was found, a light colored object was observed in a crack. This object was likely the same item observed at the time of the body recovery and reported to be a faded yellow sling. However, further investigation—aided by a monocular—determined this item to be the shaft of a wooden ice ax. The ax was at the top of a steep chimney, aligned with the likely “fall line” that the victim would have taken during his fall. Upon retrieval of the ice ax (which required 5.6 climbing moves), a billed ball cap was also located, approximately 20 to 30 feet below the ax. The head of the ax was positioned in a crack as if it had been intentionally placed or “hooked” there. Given the difficult terrain above the top of this chimney, it seems likely that Hensler was attempting to ascend this steep headwall. The location of the accident is, to confirm what was reported by rangers Byerly and Culbreath, a good 100 yards north of the East Face route. (Source: Mark Magnuson, SAB Coordinator, Grand Teton National Park)

(Editor's Note: In a follow-up interview with Lance Brown, it was learned that the climbing plans had changed due to Keith Hensler's having experienced severe stomach cramps— from drinking double strength Gatorade—on September 1 during their ascent to Surprise Lake. They returned to Lupine Meadows the next day, but Mr. Hensler felt bad about having to cancel his trip, so he offered to buy his friend a guided trip on the Grand with Exum Mountain Guides. While Mr. Brown did this climb on September 3 and 4,

Mr. Hensler made the decision to do the solo attempt.

There is a certain amount of psychological preparation needed for climbs. When plans change and a new objective is chosen—especially if it is in haste,achieving a good frame of mind may be sacrificed for the sake of following a schedule.)

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