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Fall on Rock, Fall into Moat, Climbing Alone, Wyoming, Grand Teton, Mount Teewinot

FALL ON ROCK, FALL INTO MOAT, CLIMBING ALONE

Wyoming, Grand Teton, Mount Teewinot

On August 22, Larry L. Fahlberg (44) died while attempting a solo climb of the East Face Route on Mount Teewinot in Grand Teton National Park. Fahlberg was climbing alone and the accident was not witnessed. He was reported overdue from the climb by a friend on the following day, and a search was implemented the same afternoon. A total of 48 people were involved in search efforts from Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, USFS helitack crew and pilot, Teton County Search and Rescue and Exum Mountain Guides. Field search teams were comprised of technical climbers, search dog teams and aerial reconnaissance.

Fahlberg's body was located by Grand Teton National Park rangers on August 24 in a moat at the 11,000 foot level on the East Face route. He had apparently fallen approximately 30 feet and died of his injuries and hypothermia. Fahlberg was raised from the moat and his body was flown by helicopter to Lupine Meadows and turned over to the Teton County Coroner at 1400.

Analysis

By all accounts Fahlberg was an experienced climber and very familiar with the Teton Range. The route he was attempting was well within his abilities. The conditions found on the route the day of the accident were relatively good and a solo ascent by a climber with Fahlberg's experience was not unusual or unreasonable. He was appropriately equipped for the climb in the conditions found on August 22. No ice ax was found at the scene, but it is likely that Fahlberg had one with him that was not found. An ax would not have been of benefit if Fahlberg was on rock or stepping from snow to rock when the accident occurred. He was apparently not wearing crampons during the accident, but these would have been a hindrance on the terrain he was climbing.

Fahlberg was an experienced climber and would have been well aware of the dangers of solo climbing. Lack of a climbing partner/witness as well as the uncertainty of his climbing plans were a factor in the search for Fahlberg. These factors, however, would have no effect on the outcome of this case according to Teton County Coroner Bob Campbell. It is highly unlikely that Fahlberg could have survived his injuries even in the time it would have taken to effect the swiftest of rescues. (Climbing registration is no longer required at Grand Teton National Park, but a voluntary sign-out service is available for those who still prefer to have their whereabouts monitored.)

From the interviews and evidence found, the following is a likely scenario. Fahlberg would have followed through with his intent to drive from Cooke City early on the morning of August 27, and left early from Lupine Meadows parking area. The morning was warm and he would have stripped off his jacket and hat and worn his visor and sunglasses. He was very fit and would have moved rapidly. Rick Kneedler most likely watched Fahlberg ascend the snowfield through his binoculars immediately before his accident at 1020. The old set of boot tracks ascended the snowfield directly to its highest point where there was a gap between the snow and the rock that had melted out. A newer set of tracks off to the side provided a more secure route, but was not evident from below. Possibilities for the cause of Fahlberg's fall into the moat are a slip on the rock with wet/ snowy boots, a portion of the snow breaking away as he stepped across the gap, or rock- fall striking Fahlberg while he was in an exposed position. He probably fell the 30 feet into the moat and possibly lost consciousness momentarily. Upon awakening he would have placed his extra clothes and hat on as well as his rain jacket since he would have been in the spray of ice water. It was dark in the moat and he would have placed his headlamp on his head and turned it on. All this was in preparation for a climb out of the moat. However, Fahlberg had sustained a major head injury as well as being hypothermic, and he lost consciousness before being able to extract himself. Fahlberg may have untied his own shoe laces prior to his death. (It is not unusual for hypothermia victims to undress themselves in the later stages of that condition.) The food in his pack was apparently untouched, which supports the idea that the accident occurred on the ascent as opposed to the descent. (Source: Rich Perch, SAR Ranger)

(Editor's Note: This was the third incident on Mount Teewinot for the summer. The one not reported in these narratives was also a fall on snow—but on the descent. The victim fell 200 feet into a six-foot deep moat. In all these cases, there was no belay or self-arrest. This year's fatality and serious injury numbers are certainly high for this category.)