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Overdue, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Teton

OVERDUE

Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Teton

On the afternoon of September 18, rescue coordinator Mark Magnuson was notified of three overdue climbers on the North Face of the Grand Teton. A check of the trailhead found the subjects’ vehicle still in the parking lot. According to the reporting party, roommate and co-worker Lauren Gaylord, the group of three—George Stacy (26), Todd Walther (27), and Adrian Foreman (29) had left Jackson just before noon on Saturday, September 16. Their intent was to climb the North Face route and return home on the 17th via Garnet Canyon. As of noon on September 18, they had not returned home and had missed work.

Rangers located the party’s vehicle still parked at the Lupine Meadows Trailhead. A check of permits for additional information revealed that the group had not signed out for the overnight, as required by park regulations. An investigation was initiated, including efforts to locate other climbers who had been on the North Face during that period of time. Through this process limited additional information was obtained. Ranger Leo Larson was sent to a vantage point on the Teton Park road with a spotting scope, but was unsuccessful in locating any persons or clues on those portions of the North Face route visible through the scope.

Contact was made via radio with ranger Sara Levson, who was hiking up Garnet Canyon for an overnight at the Platforms. She had not seen the party in question. Climbers descending from upper Garnet Canyon had not seen a group matching the description of the three.

With approaching inclement weather, the complexity of the North Face of the Grand Teton, and information obtained regarding the experience level and equipment of the climbers, Magnuson requested the Yellowstone contract helicopter at 1600 to respond to Lupine Meadows to initiate a reconnaissance flight of the intended route. At 1700, just prior to the Yellowstone helicopter’s arrival, the overdue climbers contacted park dispatch by telephone from Dornan's. (Rangers had left a note on their vehicle instructing them to call as soon as possible if they returned.)

Analysis

A follow up interview of the three climbers by rangers Magnuson and Jackson found the following information: Stacy, Walther, and Foreman departed Jackson at 1100 on September 16 to climb the North Face of the Grand Teton. They hoped to climb the first four pitches of the route and bivouac on the first ledge that night. Due to a late start, long approach, slow climbing progress, and route-finding problems, they were forced to spend the first night at the top of the third pitch on a marginal ledge. They continued climbing on the 17th but encountered similar problems, spending that night on the lower section of the second ledge. It then took them until 1300 on the 18th to traverse off the second ledge to the upper saddle. They stated that they expected to find rangers at the Lower Saddle patrol hut to report their status, but none were there. (Rangers Gary Wise and Rill Culbreath had just departed that morning.) They continued hiking down Garnet Canyon, arriving at the trailhead around 1700. Regarding their failure to obtain a permit, they said they weren’t aware that permits were still required to climb.

Magnuson issued Stacy, Walther, and Foreman each an optional appearance violation notice for failure to obtain a permit for an overnight back country stay/bivouac. This regulation is posted at two different locations at each trailhead, in the park brochure and newspaper, and at permits offices. Additionally, seasonal press releases and special notices clarifying that permits are still required for all overnight trips, including those by climbers, were noted as posted in the Jenny Lake Ranger Station and several locations throughout the community. (Source: Mark Magnuson, SAR Coordinator, Grand Teton National Park)