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Rappel Error—Rope Jammed, Stranded, Off Route, Wyoming, Grand Tetons, Black Ice Couloir


Wyoming, Grand Tetons, Black Ice Couloir

On July 6, while ascending the Grand Teton around 0800, Park volunteers Lanny Johnson, PA, and Dr. Jim Little heard several loud whistles and distress calls emanating from the Black Ice Couloir at the top of the Upper Saddle. Johnson immediately notified the Jenny Lake Rangers by radio and began to investigate the incident.

Given the seriousness of the location and the lack of availability of contract helicopters (which were out of the valley on fires), all available personnel were summoned to the rescue. About 1000, the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC) helicopter became available and was dispatched to Grand Teton National Park.

Johnson interviewed several concerned climbers in the area and was finally able to communicate verbally with the involved party. At 1020, Johnson ascertained that party members Larsen Inman and Sam Parsons had no injuries. However, they had become stranded on a ledge in the Great West Chimney about 200 feet below the level of the Upper Saddle the previous day, and were quite cold and exhausted. At 1100, Rangers

Randy Benham and Bill Culbreath were delivered to the Lower Saddle by the EIMRC helicopter. Four additional rangers were prepared to fly to the Lower Saddle as well, but the EIMRC helicopter was called back to its base in Idaho for dispatch to another medical emergency.

Benham and Culbreath, along with Johnson and Little, then solicited the assistance of two Exum Climbing Guides, Jim Olsen and Ken Jern, who were also in the area guiding clients. Rangers Leo Larson and Chris Harder were dispatched on foot from the valley to the Lower Saddle to assist in the operation. Rangers Helen Larson and Scott Guenther were situated in Cascade Canyon at a convenient location to assist with communications.

At 1400, Culbreath was lowered 200 feet to the stranded climbers. Inman was secured to a rope and raised to a ledge connecting to the Upper Saddle using a Z-rig pulley system. The operation was repeated for Parsons and Culbreath. At 1645 all personnel arrived at the Upper Saddle. Inman and Parsons were then escorted by rescue personnel to the Lower Saddle and arrived at 1800. Being quite exhausted, they opted to spend an additional night at their camp on the Middle Teton Moraine, 500 feet below the Lower Saddle.


While descending the Grand Teton in the late afternoon, Inman and Parsons had become disoriented. Instead of rappelling down the “normal” route, which ends at the Upper Saddle, they ventured too far to the north, and rappelled into the Great West Chimney of the Grand Teton. When they attempted to pull their rope down to them to continue their descent, the rope became jammed. They were subsequently forced to spend the night at the location since they were unable to contact any other climbers until the next morning. (Source: George Montopoli, Park Ranger)