American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Slip on Snow — Unable to Self-Arrest, Off-Route, No Hard Hat, Inexperience, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Mount Teewinot, Northwest Couloir

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 2010


Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Mount Teewinot, Northwest Couloir

On July 11, Sam Russell (22) fell approximately 200 vertical feet down the Northwest Couloir of Teewinot, sustaining significant injuries. The fall resulted from a slip on snow that occurred at the top of the NW Couloir just below the prominent “V-notch” near the summit of Teewinot at about 12,000 feet of altitude. He was unable to self-arrest in the snow, sliding and falling some 100 feet. He then impacted rock and fell approximately another 100 feet over rock, coming to rest in a steep alcove just below a large rock block. Three companions witnessed the fall.

They split into two parties, one descending skiers’ right of the gully (N. Evon and D. Ozment) and the other descending skiers’ left (S. Reece and S. Russell). Reece assisted Russell with the crampons and began to descend. Reece slipped on the hard snow, but was able to self-arrest. He then moved skiers’ right over to where Evon and Ozment were descending. Russell then began to descend. He was not wearing a helmet.

About 1130, Russell slipped at the same location as Reece, but was unable to self-arrest, despite several attempts. After about 50 feet, he began to tumble and cartwheel. After another 50 feet, he impacted rock, and continued his fall over steep rock for another 100 feet. He finally came to rest in a steep alcove just below a large rock block.

Ozment climbed down to Russell and assisted him as best he could while Evon contacted Grand Teton Dispatch via a cellphone call to his girlfriend (who relayed the information to GRTE Dispatch). Reece and Evon remained about 100 feet above the accident site, where they were able to communicate with the Rescue Cache using a cellphone. SAR Coordinator R. Johnson received the initial call and established contact with Reece. Johnson then turned over rescue coordination to G. Montopoli so that he could assist with the helicopter component of the operation.

The rescue got under way. One ranger was flown to a spot where he could climb to the accident site. Three other rangers where flown to a heli-site.

Russell was immobilized on a backboard and extracted. They arrived at Lupine Meadows about 1430. He was transported to St. John’s Hospital via Medic. At St.John’s Hospital, Russell was diagnosed with a left orbital fracture, lacerated spleen, left tibia fracture, trauma to both knees and chin, and other injuries.

At the accident site, Rangers Jernigan and Vidak assisted Russell’s three companions from their locations on technical ground in the NW Couloir to the helispot. They were then flown down by helicopter to the Lupine Meadows Rescue Cache.


They had left Lupine Meadows Parking Area at about 0300 hours and ascended the East Face route of Teewinot. They arrived at the summit about 0900. They intended to descend the Southwest Couloir; however, when they arrived at the V-notch, about 200 feet below and to the southeast of the Teewinot summit, they were unaware of the need to ascend up and over a ridge into the next gully, which leads to the SW couloir. They therefore began a descent into the Northwest Couloir, putting them off-route.

Russell was completely inexperienced with climbing on steep snow/ice and using an ice ax and crampons. (Source: Ranger George Montopoli— Incident Commander, Investigating Ranger)

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