American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Rock Pulled Off—Broke Climbing Rope, Fall on Rock, Wyoming, Wind River Range, Cirque of the Towers, Wolf's Head Peak

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


Wyoming, Wind River Range, Cirque of the Towers, Wolf's Head Peak

On September 22, Michael “Scott” Shaw (31) of Talkeetna, Alaska, died in a mountaineering accident while descending Wolf’s Head Peak in the Cirque of the Towers.

Scott and Alex Everett (both National Outdoor Leadership School instructors) summited Wolfs Head Peak via the East Ridge around 4:10 p.m. They rappelled the west face by double rope rappel then climbed 4th class to the notch above a prominent east facing chimney/gully descending to Cirque Lake. They made four single rope rappels to the floor of the gully. On the fourth and last rappel, the rappel rope became stuck when they tried to retrieve it. They decided that Scott would climb back up to dislodge it. Scott climbed, belayed by Alex. He placed four pieces of protection and was about 60 feet up when Alex heard Scott yell, “ROCK!” When Alex looked up, he saw Scott and a rock about the size of a tire—and estimated to be about 250 pounds—falling. Alex braced for a hard pull on the rope, but it never came. He saw Scott hit a ledge above him, then bounce and tumble down the gully approximately 250-300 feet.

Alex descended to Scott and administered first aid and CPR. By 7:10—after about 25 minutes—Scott did not respond to CPR. Alex covered Scott and descended to the valley and found another climbing party. With one person from that party Alex hiked out to Big Sandy Opening, and they drove to Lander. They called the NOLS Alaska branch school (the only phone number Alex had with him) and reached Kurt Gisclair. Kurt then called the Fremont County Sheriff.

On September 23, the Fremont County Search and Rescue group organized a response using climbing rangers from Grand Teton National Park. Alex and the county coroner were flown to the site, and the climbing rangers investigated the accident. Alex and the coroner returned to Lander.


Based on this investigation, it appears that Scott pulled the rock off, which then pinched and cut his climbing rope against another rock. Scott was found with about two feet of rope still tied to his harness. (Source: Drew Leemon and Alex Everett)

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