Overdue — Climbing Alone, Fall on Snow, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Avalanche Canyon

Publication Year: 2009.


Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Avalanche Canyon

On August 5, Patty Felder contacted park dispatch to report that her husband, Richard Felder (58), was overdue from a descent of Avalanche Canyon. They had camped together in the South Fork of Cascade Canyon the previous evening, and in the morning, Ms. Felder hiked out via Cascade Canyon while her husband left to hike out via Avalanche Canyon.

A search was organized. On August 6 around 0930, searchers spotted Mr. Felder from Helicopter 20. Felder was at the base of a steep snowfield below Snowdrift Lake. He was waving a ski pole with one arm and appeared to be seriously injured. Rangers Vidak, Jernigan and Feinberg responded from Snowdrift Lake and arrived on scene about 15 minutes later. Their initial impression was that Mr. Felder had life-threatening injuries and rapid extrication was necessary. At 1735, Ranger Visnovske was short-hauled with a litter and medical gear from Lupine Meadows to the accident site. Mr. Felder was then packaged in the litter and short-hauled back to Lupine Meadows. He was then transferred to a waiting Medic 1 ambulance and transported to St.John’s Hospital in Jackson.

All searchers in the field were then either flown back to the Rescue Cache or hiked out and returned to the Rescue Cache. A brief after action review was conducted and most personnel were released by 2130.


Mr. Felder had serious injuries and was flown to Memorial Herman Hospital in Houston, TX on August 8. Before he left, an interview was conducted. Though he was on heavy medications at the time of the interview, Mr. Felder gave the following account of his ordeal.

He said that the accident happened at about 0930 on August 5. He had hiked over Avalanche Divide and descended to Snowdrift Lake. Below the lake, he elected to get on a fairly steep snowfield to descend. He shortened his ski poles to use them as ice axes. He then slipped on the snow and managed to stop on a rock uninjured. At that point, he attempted to traverse the snow to a better location, but while doing so, broke through a hole in the snow and fell approximately ten feet, striking his head and landing in water. He then took a small rope from his pack and tied it to the pack and himself. Then he used his poles to cut steps in the snow to climb out. Once out of the hole, he hauled up his pack. While putting his pack on, he slipped again, dropping the pack. The pack slid down the snow and over about a ten-foot drop. Mr. Felder was still tied to the pack, so when it reached the end of the rope, he was jerked from his stance and fell approximately another 30 feet after his pack. (He likely sustained the serious injuries to his right arm, back, ribs and coccyx during this fall.) He again landed in water at the base of the snowfield but managed to quickly get up and out of the water. He lay down in the rocks about 30 feet from his pack and remained there unable to move for about the next 31 hours.

Mr. Felder said that he thought he had heard voices earlier in the morning, and Ranger Byerly said later that he had probably passed within 100 feet of where Mr. Felder lay while on his search up Avalanche Canyon. Mr. Felder was lying next to a very loud stream, so it would have been difficult for him to hear or be heard unless someone was very close. Mr. Felder also said that he had watched the helicopter fly over many times that day. He had wished that he could get to his pack to get out his yellow shirt to use to signal the helicopter.

Some Conclusions: While Mr. Felder chose to descend a non-trailed canyon that he knew little about, he did have a responsible party that knew where he was supposed to be and alerted rescue personnel in a timely manner. Had Mr. Felder been in Avalanche Canyon before, he may have known that it was possible to avoid the snow below Snowdrift Lake entirely by staying to the north side of the canyon. Once he had committed to traveling down the steep snow and suffered the head injury, he may not have been able to make the best of decisions. Being tied to his pack when it fell the second time certainly contributed to the most severe of his injuries. Mr. Felder was fortunate to have survived the night in only shorts and a T-shirt and most likely would not have survived a second night out.

Real credit for this successful rescue goes to the dedicated efforts of over 65 people from multiple agencies involved in the search. In a remote park with limited resources, Mr. Felder is fortunate that such a large and organized search effort was mounted with only about five hours to prepare. He is also fortunate to have received prompt and critical emergency care at St.John’s Hospital. (Source: From a report submitted by Chris Harder, GTNP Ranger, and Grand Teton National Park News Releases, a website) (Editor's Note: Here we have another hiker/ hiking accident that had some climb-

ing techniques involved. It is presented as an example of how hiking situations can result in needing climbing tools and techniques, especially if one is not familiar with the terrain.)