FALL ON SNOW, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT, CLIMBING ALONE
Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Disappointment Peak
On July 11, Joe Zitomer and Melynda Cable stopped at the Jenny Lake Rescue Cache to report possible cries for help coming from Disappointment Peak. Zitomer and Cable had hiked to Amphitheatre Lake, arriving between 1500 and 1530, when they heard the cries. They described them as male and coming from the cliffs above the lake to the south. They heard the cries for a period of about 30 minutes and confirmed in their own minds that they were indeed calls for help. While at the lake, they ran into a party of two males who also heard the cries. Zitomer and Cable then hiked back down the trail to make the report.
At 1655 park dispatch received a cellular phone call from off-duty naturalist Jeff Hancock. Hancock reported an injured climber who had fallen 120 feet in the ice couloir above Amphitheatre Lake and sustained serious injuries (bilateral ankle fractures and head and chest trauma).
The NPS/USFS contract helicopter piloted by Ken Johnson departed Lupine Meadows at 1715 with rangers Ron Johnson and Bill Culbreath on board. A recon flight of Disappointment Peak located the injured climber in the snow couloir along the east side of the Lake Ledges Route. Johnson was able to land the helicopter several hundred feet above the accident site and Culbreath and Johnson descended to the scene, arriving at 1738. Rangers Bill Alexander and Jim Springer were flown to the same landing zone with additional medical and rescue gear and also descended to the scene.
Following a patient assessment and consultation with medical control Lanny Johnson, Gale Long’s suspected injuries (wrist fractures, femur fracture, cervical-spinal, and head and chest trauma) were stabilized. Given the mechanism of fall and the nature of Long’s injuries, along with other evacuation alternatives, a decision was made to shorthaul Long from the accident scene to Lupine Meadows.
At 1904, the patient was transferred to NPS Ambulance Medic 1 and was en route to St. John’s Hospital, arriving there at 1933. Long was admitted with extremity fractures, torn tendons in his thumb (requiring surgery), rib fractures, multiple facial lacerations requiring sutures, and abrasions and contusions over the entire body.
On July 12, I interviewed Gale Long (56) in his room at St. John’s Hospital. According to Long, he arrived in Grand Teton National Park on July 10 andleft the Lupine Meadows Trailhead at 1300. He spent Friday night bivouacked on the hill above Amphitheatre Lake intending to climb Disappointment Peak the following day via the Lake Ledges route. Long said he scoped the route from the valley prior to his departure and, given the amount of snow observed on the peak, elected not to take an ice ax.
He left his camp at 0900 on July 10 and ascended the Lake Ledges route, arriving on the summit about 1300. Long said the snow on the way up was soft, providing good step kicking. He carried two ski poles with him. He started back down from the summit by 1315, retracing his route of ascent. Upon arriving at the top of the Lake Ledges route (1400 to 1430), the snow was still soft. He planned to traverse the top of the snow couloir from south to north and, as he did, he slipped, the snow being significantly harder as he traversed to the north, into the shade. Long described his subsequent fall as happening extremely fast, taking him (airborne at times) over snow and bands of rock. He finally shot off the snow and landed on the top edge of a large chockstone, preventing what may have been a fatal fall over a steeper cliff.
Long said he was wet (lying in running water), bleeding, and disoriented and unable to use his right leg. He moved up to the south side of the gully, seeking a drier location. He attempted to make voice contact with persons below who, having heard his cries for help, climbed to his location, arriving about one hour later. This group included a first-year physician and an EMT.
Having climbed for 2 5 years with numerous routes in the Teton Range (the complete Exum, East Ridge of the Grand Teton, and the East Ridge and Northeast Snow Fields of Owen), Long described himself as an experienced mountaineer. He said his principal mistake was not taking his ice ax, thinking that he could bypass the snow. He said he also failed to account for the snow being harder on the descent, the route being in early afternoon shadows with the setting sun. Long said he had not climbed the route before but had studied it in a guide book.
Long, an employee of the Bureau of Land Management, was warned regarding his failure to obtain the required overnight backcountry permit. (Source: Mark Magnuson, SAR Coordinator)