American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Party Separated—Off Route, Late Start, Inexperience, Wyoming, Grand Tetons, Grand Teton

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1997

STRANDED, PARTY SEPARATED—OFF ROUTE, LATE START, INEXPERIENCE

Wyoming, Grand Tetons, Grand Teton

On August 14 at 2230, rangers at the Lower Saddle hut were contacted by Chris Riha (39), Rosa Kanning (24), and John Murphy (23) who indicated that two of their party, Jason Osder (22) and Margaret Knight (22), were lost.

At 0400 Osder, Knight, Murphy and Kanning had left the Lupine Meadows trailhead for the camping zone in Garnet Canyon. The party arrived at the Meadows about 0800 and set up their camp. They then continued up to the Lower Saddle, arriving at 1210. The party intended to climb the Owen-Spalding (OS) route on the Grand Teton, and arrived at the Upper Saddle at 1500. At this point they joined with a solo climber, Riha, who offered to lead the party to the summit. The party of five climbed the OS, and summitted at 1800. On the descent, the party reached the Upper Saddle, via the normal rappel, at 2015.

At this time, Osder and Knight, both novice climbers, decided to get a head start on the descent to the Lower Saddle. They were told to stay near the central rib on the way down, and to avoid the gully closest to the west face of the Grand. Osder and Knight apparently became lost in the growing darkness, and descended the Exum gully. They continued to a point at which they were cliffed out, and with only one headlamp between them and the now total darkness, they sat down to be found.

Riha, Kanning, and Murphy descended toward the Lower Saddle. As they were passing through the Black Dike area, they heard cries for help from their stranded friends. They attempted to make clear voice contact with Osder and Knight, but were unable to determine their exact location. After approximately one and a half hours of searching, they decided to continue to the Lower Saddle to get help.

At 2230 Riha, Murphy, and Kanning arrived at the Lower Saddle Hut. Rangers Wilts, Arial, and Guenther went up with Murphy to search for the lost party. They ascended toward the start of the Lower Exum route and were able to make minimal voice contact. Rangers Arial and Guenther then ascended the normal approach route for the Upper Exum climb and began descending the Exum Gully. Contact was made about 0100. Osder and Knight were both uninjured and found to be alert and oriented.

Rangers Arial and Guenther then proceeded with roped belays to assist Osder and Knight back up the gully and then down the standard descent route. The entire party reached the Lower Saddle at 0430. All five members of the climbing party stayed at the Exum Hut on the Lower Saddle until about 1000 that morning. (Source: Mark Magnusen, SAR Coordinator)

Analysis

There is no explanation as to why Riha offered to suddenly become a guide—or what his level of experience was. Having taken on some responsibility for these novices, he should have followed one of the basic principles: keep the party together. (Source: Jed Williamson)

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