American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Weather, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Teton

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004

FALL ON ROCK, WEATHER

Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Teton

On August 31 at 1855, Exum Guide Jim Williams called via cell phone from the Lower Saddle stating that he could hear yells for help coming from the area by the “Eye of the Needle.” Williams stated he was willing to hike up to the scene, estimating it would take him approximately 30 minutes to get there. I told Williams I would request a helicopter so that Rangers could be flown up to the Lower Saddle in the event that Williams encountered injured climbers.

At 1925 Williams was able to talk to Beth Hestick (48) while climbing to the scene. She said that her husband Joe Hestick (47) fell 30 to 60 feet just below the “Eye of the Needle,” possibly dislocating his hip. He reportedly was unable to stand and was in significant pain. Williams relayed this information via cell phone and reported he was about 15 minutes from the scene.

By 1932, the helicopter landed at Lupine Meadows and rigged a short-haul with Ranger Scott Guenther as spotter. At 2007 Ranger Vidak was inserted at the scene and began assessing Joe Hestick with help from Williams. At 2019, Ranger Vidak and Joe Hestick were extricated and brought to Lupine Meadows, where Hestick was packaged carefully for ambulance transport to the hospital. (Source: Brandon Torres, Grand Teton National Park)

Analysis

On September 2, after flying Beth Hestick, who had frostbite on both feet, from the Lower Saddle to Lupine Meadows, she told me the following about their accident.

They set out to climb the Grand Teton from their campsite on the Lower Saddle at 0515 on August 29. They intended to climb the Upper Exum route. On the climb, they passed through the feature known as the Eye of the Needle. The Hesticks joined the Exum Ridge at Wall Street and continued the climb. There were two other parties climbing near them for part of the day. As the Hesticks reached the Friction Pitch area, they could see the weather starting to build. They continued climbing, and as they reached the V Pitch, they saw the party ahead of them just finishing the pitch. There were no other parties below the Hesticks. Joe led the V Pitch and Beth followed. The weather was worsening significantly now and they made the decision to descend as soon as possible. Beth led the next short pitch and said that she really knew it was snowing when she put her hand in fresh snow as she continued her lead.

The Hesticks understood from their route description that they could bail from their climb after “crossing a knife edge ridge above the V Pitch.” Joe proceeded to lower Beth into various gullies to locate the descent. Each gully seemed to disappear into “oblivion” and Beth would climb back out. The weather had turned extreme by this time with cold temperatures, heavy snow, and clouds. Visibility was very poor and the Hesticks would have had little chance of seeing any landmarks to indicate the descent route.

The Hesticks wisely decided to seek shelter and found a protected cave. They were able to stay dry inside this cave and spent a chilly first night out as the storm continued. They had extra clothes including rain shells, though they did not have rain pants. The storm continued all the next day, and the Hesticks were forced to stay in their cave for a second night. Beth said that this night was much colder. On the morning of their third day, Beth said that the sun came out and they could see where they were. The peak was covered in snow, which was drifted thigh-high in places. The Hesticks decided to climb the final 40 feet to the summit to get their bearings for the descent. They eventually found their way to the double rappel that gets climbing parties down to the Upper Saddle. When they were nearing the end of the technical part of their descent, they could see the Lower Saddle. Joe remarked that he could see their tent and that it was still standing despite the storm. Beth told me that just then she could feel her energy drain away. She knew that they had one short technical section of climbing left to do (the Eye of the Needle) and she kept thinking that accidents happen when you get close to home. Beth found a rappel anchor that would get her past the Eye of the Needle and she decided to rappel. Joe later stated that the only reason he did not do the rappel was because he didn’t want to hike back up to Beth and put on his harness.

Joe climbed through the Eye of the Needle while Beth rappelled. At some point he yelled to Beth to ask if she thought he was going the right way. She indicated yes and continued to pull the rappel rope. Beth then heard what she thought was rockfall, but it was really Joe falling. Beth went to Joe and yelled for help toward the Lower Saddle.

The Hesticks were caught in a very severe storm not typical at that time of year. They were well prepared for their climb and had good route information. When they were trapped by the cold, snowy weather, they remained calm and showed good judgment. Joe fell near the end of a huge ordeal. He slipped and fell in an area that he felt he could down-climb. Though I am sure that Joe was physically and psychologically drained, I cannot find fault in his judgment. (Source: Ranger Scott Guenther)

(Editor's Note: While the Hesticks were retreating, another party was attempting to climb the Owen-Spalding route. They chose to continue to the summit, and by the time they returned to the hut at the Lower Saddle at 2100 on September 1, they were wet and cold, especially a 16-year-old who was wearing only cut-off jeans under rain-soaked pants.

Also from this season, there were two fatalities resulting from hikers who got into climbing situations. The first was in June, when Nicole Bloom (23) and her partner became separated around 1100 while on their trip to Garnet Canyon. Weather conditions deteriorated to rain and snow for three hours in the afternoon. A search involving 36 technical climbers found Bloom's body below the south face of the East Ridge of Middle Teton at 1710. She evidently had climbed the Middle Teton Glacier on the north side of the ridge, and as she was trying to downclimb the face in order to rejoin her partner in the South Fork of Garnet Canyon, she fell about 700 feet and died from her head injuries. Bloom was an experienced climber.; but during this hike, she evidently made a spontaneous decision to traverse the ridge, and this led her into technical terrain.

In July, a GTNP employee, Lori Sievers (23), went on a hike up to Hanging Canyon, but missed the trail and went around Jenny Lake instead. Rangers think she went over to look at Cube Point from Arrowhead Pool, as she was planning to climb a route on Cube the next week. After looking at the route, she may have looked down in Cascade Canyon and decided to climb down to the trail. It looks like an easy gully; however.; once you get down three quarters of the way, it starts to overhang and gets “cliffed out. ” It appears she fell while attempting to down-climb the last 250feet to the base of the cliffs.)

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