American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Inadequate Belay and Protection, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Teton, Owen-Spaulding

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 1998

FALL ON ROCK, INADEQUATE BELAY and PROTECTION

Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Teton, Owen-Spaulding

On July 4 at 0925, Jackson Hole Mountain Guide Allan Bard (44) took a fatal leader fall while guiding on the Owen- Spaulding Route on the Grand Teton. He and his client, Jay Wiener, were on a section of the route known as the Double Chimney when the accident occurred. Bard fell approximately 130 feet to the end of the rope before his fall was arrested. Other climbers in the area became aware of the accident and came to Wiener s assistance, but they were unable to reach Bard. Grand Teton National Park climbing rangers learned about the accident and dispatched the Bridger-Teton contract helicopter and rescue team. A rescue team member rappelled to Bard at 1533 and confirmed that he was dead. Rangers traversed with Bard's body to the Upper Saddle. Plans to evacuate the body with the helicopter were abandoned when a storm moved through the area. The rescue team spent the night at the hut at the Lower Saddle and returned to Bard's location early on the morning of July 6. At 1008 they were able to use the contract helicopter to fly Bard to a heli-spot in Lupine Meadows where his body was turned over to Teton County Coroner Bob Campbell.

Analysis

A properly executed belay and placement of intermediate protection most likely would have made the difference between this being a fatality or a shorter fall resulting in only minor injuries to Allan Bard. According to guide Andy Carson and other guides in the area, it is not uncommon for guides to forego a belay on ground where a fall is deemed to be unlikely. The reason for this is both to enhance the speed of the ascent and because of a concern that an inexperienced client might pull the guide off the climb. In the mountain setting where weather is unpredictable and daylight is a precious commodity, the speed of the ascent often equates to safety in the minds of mountain guides and some climbers. The time it takes to set up a belay can slow their ascent. Clients are often inexperienced at the art of belaying, and some guides prefer to climb without a belay and instruct the client not to touch the rope. This, of course, leaves no room for error on the part of the guide.

The equipment used by Bard and his client performed exceptionally well and probably had no bearing on the cause of this accident. The rope and harness took an extreme fall and was apparently undamaged. It was fortunate that a single stopper placed at the belay held or the fall would certainly have resulted in a second fatality. Both guide and client were properly clothed, and were equipped with climbing helmets, crampons, and ice axes.

It is not clear exactly why Bard fell from the Double Chimney. The conditions at the time of the accident were very poor, with snow and verglas, though the route was certainly within the abilities of Bard. The other climbers in the area did not observe any rock or ice falling from above that would have caused the accident. They did, however, describe rock and ice falling concurrently with Bard. It is possible that he pulled off a loose hold or that the debris that was observed was caused by his fall in the chimney.

There was an extended period of time between the accident and the first rescuer reaching Bard's body. Teton County Coroner Bob Campbell stated that only the immediate placement of a tourniquet could have made any difference in the end. It is unlikely that someone could have rappelled to Bard following the accident and properly treated his injuries fast enough to save his life.

Bard was climbing well within his abilities. He was well known and respected by other climbers for both his climbing ability and guiding. He apparently had an accident- free record throughout his career as a climber and guide. He was also reported to be very fit and well rested at the time of the accident. (Source: Rich Perch, SAR Ranger)

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