American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Out of Bounds—Lost, Inadequate Clothing and Equipment, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Rock Spring Canyon

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

OUT OF BOUNDS–LOST, INADEQUATE CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT

Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Rock Spring Canyon

On February 6 at 1330, Cameron Morgan (25), Jonathan Gagne (25), and Katherine Gagne (24) left the Teton Village Ski Area boundaries with the intent to ski out of bounds in Rock Springs Canyon. They were on alpine skis and a snowboard. The avalanche danger was listed as “Considerable.” They took a wrong turn and entered Granite Canyon in Grand Teton National Park and headed north, not south. They were unable to retrace their tracks and spent the night at the bottom of the canyon. On the following afternoon, a fourth member of the group reported that his companions had not returned.

Grand Teton National Park rangers were notified by the ski patrol at about 1430. Rangers and a ski patrolman were flown by helicopter to search the Granite Canyon area and located the missing party from the air. They were picked up just before nightfall and flown from the backcountry. Despite the ordeal, all three members of the party were in good condition and were released.

Analysis

Aside from the clothes they were wearing and a Camelback with water, they had no other survival gear, such as food, extra clothing, matches, shovel, probes, or transceivers. They did have a Teton Village ski area map in their possession. They were sure that they were skiing through Rock Springs Canyon to the south of Teton Village, as they had done previously. When they reached Granite Creek, the water was flowing the wrong way. When skiing out of Rock Springs, one has to turn left to get back to the ski area. The stream was flowing to their right. Assuming that the water wasn’t really flowing downhill, they went upstream to where they spent the night. The next morning their discussions about the direction of the water continued. Interesting group dynamics undoubtedly took place. Leadership was asserted, and the party spent the day going about a quarter-mile farther upstream before they were spotted from the helicopter.

Leadership skills and backcountry survival preparedness are just as important when accessing the wilderness from a developed ski area as they are when heading into the wilderness with a mind-set of seeking a wilderness experience. A second night out in -20 degrees F. in their condition might have been grim.

Another factor was the reporting party. He assumed that they didn’t meet apres-ski in the bar and that they didn’t get back to the motel that night “because they were partying.” He searched the lifts at the ski area the following day until 1430 before reporting the party overdue. (Source: Dan Burgette, SAR Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)

(Editor’s Note: While this is not a climbing incident, it is included as a classic example of a backcountry situation that required mountaineering skills for which the participants were not prepared.)

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