American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow, Unable to Self-Arrest, Wyoming, Grand Tetons, Middle Teton

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


Wyoming, Grand Tetons, Middle Teton

On August 20 around 1400, while descending the Southwest Couloir of the Middle Teton, Paul Schladensky (34) fell on a snowfield just above the Middle/South Teton Saddle. He initially attempted to arrest using only his hands and heels (while on his buttocks). After a while he tried to use his ice ax. He was unable to arrest and slid about 100 feet on snow into talus, hitting his right hip, chest, and ribs on the rocks first. He did not lose consciousness, but experienced difficulty with breathing, and was unable to continue on his own due to the soreness and pain, especially in the back.

Matthew Rusher, Schladensky’s partner, provided him with additional clothing and water, and went for help. He contacted campers in the South Fork of Garnet Canyon. Two of the campers continued below in search of help, while Rusher and two other campers returned to the accident site. In the Garnet Meadows, the campers contacted Forrest McCarthy, Exum guide, who cell-phoned Jenny Lake Rescue about 1530. A rescue operation was then initiated.

At 1445 Ranger Lanny Johnson, who is also a Physician’s Assistant, was informed. At 1610, the Bridger-Teton Long Ranger helicopter arrived at Lupine Meadows Rescue Cache. After a briefing, Rangers A. Byerly and R. Johnson were flown to the area for an initial evaluation and landed at the knoll just above and to the north of the saddle. Four additional rangers were flown to the same landing zone.

After informing medical control about the patient’s status, a shorthaul evacuation to a lower landing site was suggested by L. Johnson and supported by all involved rescue personnel. About 1800, the shorthaul litter and other equipment were long-lined to the accident site, and the helicopter landed at the lower landing zone while the patient was packaged for shorthaul. Shortly afterwards, the helicopter returned to the site and shorthauled the patient to the lower landing zone, where he was then loaded into the helicopter. The patient was flown to St. John’s Hospital, arriving at 1920.

Schladensky was diagnosed with five broken ribs, a fracture/dislocation of the third sacral vertebrae, a hemo/pneumothorax, a pulmonary contusion, and several abrasions and lacerations. He was later flown to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Billings, Montana. (Source: George Montopoli, SAR Ranger)

(Editor’s Note: This was one of the seven incidents that happened as a result of a slip or fall on snow. Five of these victims—four females, one male—were inexperienced. This is an unusually high number of “unable to self-arrest” cases. But it was also a year when the snow pack was considerably above normal.

Additional incidents in the Grand Tetons include two leader falls on The Snag in Death Canyon that resulted in fractures, and one Ichabod Crane-like sighting. The latter was a report from a climber on the summit of Teewinot around noon on September 7. Looking at the North Ridge route on the Grand through binoculars, he thought he saw a rope and a body hanging on the end in a belly-up position, with arms and legs dangling. He watched for 30 minutes, and was “80% sure” it was a body. A fairly thorough investigation did not turn up any evidence to substantiate the report. When this kind of imagery occurs— especially when one is awake and alert—one should consider trying a different sport for awhile.)

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