American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Climbing Alone, Inadequate Clothing and Equipment, Inexperience, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Disappointment Peak

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 1998

FALL ON ROCK, CLIMBING ALONE, INADEQUATE CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT, INEXPERIENCE

Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Disappointment Peak

On October 5 at 1245, John Jay Leach (23) fell to his death while climbing up cliffs above Amphitheater Lake. He fell an estimated 150 feet from or near the East Chimney route on Disappointment Peak at an elevation of approximately 10,000 feet. Leach had been on a day hike to the lake with six companions where he separated from them with the intention of climbing the mountain. Unassociated hikers in the area witnessed the accident and went to his assistance, but determined that he had died in the fall. Mitchell Smith had also witnessed the fall and hiked down to a phone at Jenny Lake Ranger Station to report the incident to Grand Teton National Park officials. Two park rangers were flown to a heli-spot at Amphitheater Lake and then climbed to the victim, confirming that he died of head injuries. Leach was flown by helicopter sling load to the Lupine Meadows Rescue Cache where his body was turned over to the Teton County Coroner.

Analysis

John Jay Leach was a novice climber with minimal formal training who was on very technical terrain. The investigation revealed that his experience was limited to some rappelling but no roped climbing. The cliffs that he fell from are moderate fifth class terrain where the great majority of experienced climbers would feel the need to be roped. Loose rock is always a consideration in the Teton range and could have been a factor in this incident.

He was not properly equipped to do an ascent of Disappointment Peak by the route he had chosen. He had no rope, harness, climbing protection or partner with him. Additionally he was dressed only in shorts, t-shirts and running shoes. Leach was not wearing a climbing helmet, although this piece of equipment would not have mitigated the injuries incurred in the severe fall and was not a factor.

This was apparently his first trip to Amphitheater Lake and he was unfamiliar with the Teton range. Leach would have passed a sign at the Lupine Meadows trailhead warning that mountain climbing is a hazardous activity and that loose rock was common in the range. This also advised that proper equipment and training were necessary. At least one of his companions had tried to convince him to stay with the group, but Leach seemed determined to ignore this advice and strike out on his own. He was an accomplished Nordic skier, and was reportedly extremely fit. The climb of Disappointment Peak as well as the choice of the route seemed to be based upon impulse. (Source: Rich Perch, SAR Ranger)

(Editor's Note: This was the fifth fatality in the Grand Teton range this year. In this example, the victim was a hiker-turned-climber, and so must be reported as such. It is the kind of case that often results in climbing being characterized as a “marginal” activity.

One final report from the Grand Tetons involved this editor. I was guiding on the Owen-Spaulding. A climber in the party ahead of me dislodged a softball-sized rock that fell about 50 feet and hit me on top of the head. The result was a laceration and a lump, because unfortunately, I had lent my helmet to a client who didn’t have one. I was able to continue the climb. Lucky. The lessons are clear.)

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