American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock—Hand-Hold Came Loose, Climbing Unroped, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Symmetry Spire

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001


Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Symmetry Spire

On July 28 about 1630, Mark Sachs (36) called Teton Dispatch (who transferred the call to rescue coordinator George Montopoli) using a cell phone borrowed from a hiker on the west shore of Jenny Lake. Sachs stated that his climbing partner, Laura Plaut (35) had fallen approximately 100 feet while scrambling unroped near the summit of Symmetry Spire. They had completed the Southwest Ridge route of Symmetry Spire earlier and were headed to the summit when the accident occurred. He said that she had a severe open fracture of her left elbow, a possible fractured left ankle, head lacerations, and other possible (internal) injuries (later confirmed at the hospital).

Contract helicopter 3 HP was immediately requested and the rescue effort was initiated. Ranger J. Springer (spotter) flew an initial recon flight at 1700. Ranger A. Byerly then flew internally to Lake of the Crags. He reached Plaut at 1817 and rendered medical attention. Medical control Lanny Johnson, PA, was contacted. In addition to the injuries listed above, Plaut presented lower pack pain and was shivering from cold. Byerly immediately initiated full C- spine precautions, an IV, one gram of Ancef (at 1844) and heat pads. A decision was made to short-haul Plaut due to her injuries, lateness of the day, and potential injury to rescuers if other methods of evacuation were employed.

After immobilizing Plaut, she was short-hauled to Lupine Meadows Rescue Cache by 2017 and transferred to an ambulance. (Source: George Montopoli, NPS Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)


Many who climb Symmetry Spire do the same thing Laura Plaut did for the final part of this climb. There have been many falls here. In this instance, the fall was probably caused because a hand-hold came away. Guides and even experienced climbers usually stay roped for the entire ascent. (Source: Jed Williamson)

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