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Falling Rock—Dislodged by Climber, Off Route, Benighted, Exceeding Abilities, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Mount Owen

FALLING ROCK-DISLODGED BY CLIMBER, OFF ROUTE, BENIGHTED, EXCEEDING ABILITIES

Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Mount Owen

On August 29 at 1300, I received a report via park dispatch that a climbing party on Serendipity Arete (Mount Owen) reported (via cellphone) hearing calls for help from the area of the North Ridge of the Grand Teton. The park contract helicopter and available rescue personnel were dispatched to the Lupine Meadows Rescue Cache. The subsequent recon flight of the area located a climbing party adjacent to the Third Ice Field in the area of the Black Ice Couloir. Initially the party was observed to be moving and did not obviously indicate a need for assistance. No other parties were observed in the search area. An additional flight, confirmed via a message board used in the helicopter, that the above party was indeed in need of a rescue and that one of the party members, Robert Campbell (65), was injured. Ranger Visnovske was inserted via shorthaul to the rescue site from a landing zone in Valhalla Canyon at 1901. Visnovske assessed the climbers and found that Campbell had a severe injury to his right hand and various bruises sustained in a leader fall. Visnovske determined that a shorthaul extraction via screamer suit of both climbers was warranted. Visnovske and the two climbers were then extracted in a single load and delivered to the Valhalla Canyon landing zone. The climbers were flown internally, accompanied by Ranger Byerly, to Lupine Meadows. Campbell was transported to St.John’s Hospital by ambulance.

At the Rescue Cache, the climbers told me that they had left the Lower Saddle at 0700 on Tuesday with the intent to climb the North Ridge of the Grand Teton via the Valhalla Traverse. They got off route and while climbing in an area of very loose rock, Campbell pulled out a large, loose block that struck his legs and severely injured his right hand. The party attempted to climb to a suitable bivouac ledge, but was benighted at a confined and uncomfortable belay. On Wednesday morning, they attempted to ascend, but were unable to do so because of Campbell’s injuries. They then decided to traverse and then descend to a larger ledge below them. They heard voices and began to yell for help. They felt that their cries for help were understood, which was confirmed later by the arrival of the helicopter. Though their need for help was not initially apparent to rescuers, fortunately it was confirmed, and they were rescued.

Analysis

In a debriefing with Campbell and his partner Ullmann, they told me that they met at the AAC Climbers’ Ranch in the park and decided to climb the North Ridge of the Grand Teton. They camped Monday night on the Lower Saddle and left for the Valhalla Traverse at about 0700 on Tuesday morning. They came around the Valhalla Traverse and descended the ramp, but “somehow missed the first ledge.” From their description and location, they likely traversed higher than they should have to reach the Grandstand, instead ascending to the left of the Black Ice Couloir toward the west face. The area where they were climbing is known to be very loose with poor quality rock. Sometime in the evening while Campbell was leading, he pulled on the large boulder that released. Ullmann climbed to him and they tried to bandage his hand and stop the bleeding. Ullmann then tried to lead a pitch to a ledge where they could spend the night. Campbell, unable to use his hand, could not climb and at some point hung in the rope for about 30 minutes unable to move. Ullmann rappelled to him in an effort to assist. Ultimately, they rappelled some distance farther and spent the night in a confined and uncomfortable bivouac location.

In the morning, they tried to ascend with Ullmann leading. Campbell was still unable to follow. Then Campbell led a traversing pitch because he felt that he could see the Grandstand. They heard voices and began to yell for help. Hoping that help would come, they began descending to a large ledge. When the helicopter came into view, they told me that they waved. When the helicopter came close, Ullmann told me she was pointing to a ledge below her where she expected to meet the helicopter. When I asked her if she thought a helicopter could land there, (it could not), she said that she didn’t know if it could land, but thought that a person might be able to get out. She did say that she told Campbell he needed to look more in need of assistance when the helicopter was in view. Ultimately the helicopter returned, and they were able to communicate their need for assistance.

Campbell and Ullmann were off route. Without prior knowledge of the route, crossing the Valhalla Traverse and climbing to the North Ridge requires significant route finding. Many parties find themselves off route in this area. Once Campbell was injured, they attempted to provide appropriate first aid and to affect their own rescue. Movement was difficult, and not knowing where they were, they were forced to bivouac. Campbell was the more experienced mountaineer, and Ullmann a self-described 5.7 leader. (Source: Scott Guenther, Ranger and Incident Commander)