FALL ON ROCK, FAILURE TO FOLLOW ROUTE, NO EQUIPMENT, INADEQUATE CLOTHING, INEXPERIENCE
Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Mount Teewinot
On September 22, about 1300, Jon Winiasz (23) and Eliot Kalmbach (24) were attempting to climb Mount Teewinot via the East Face route. They became severely off route and found themselves in technical terrain. They were unroped and had no climbing equipment. At approximately 11,600 feet, near the southeast ridge of the mountain, Kalmbach slipped and fell approximately 300 feet. He died on scene as a result of injuries received during the fall. Winiasz and the body of Kalmbach were evacuated by rangers using helicopter short-haul technique.
Based on my interview with Winiasz, I determined that he was the more technical climber. He reported that he could climb 5.10 in the gym and some sport routes (bolted). He had climbed several third and fourth-class “14’ers” in Colorado and he had been rock climbing for two or three years. He described Kalmbach as having climbed in more places than he had, including Patagonia and Russia; however, he said Kalmbach was not much of a technical climber and most of his experience was in “scrambling”. He indicated that his partner did not have a climbing harness or climbing shoes on this trip (and possibly did not own that type of equipment at all.) I found no technical climbing equipment during my inventory.
Winiasz stated that at one point during the climb, they went through a “hard section.” Afterwards, the two had a discussion about turning around. Kalmbach told Winiasz that if they came to other spot like that, he would like to turn around. The immediate terrain above this point seemed reasonable so they continued on.
At the actual scene, the terrain changed very quickly from third-class (walking in loose rocks), to fourth-class (scrambling where you must use your hands), to fifth-class (generally climbed with a belay rope and special equipment and where a fall may result in injury or death). It is a spot very typical in the Tetons where the terrain is constantly changing back and forth from the relatively benign to the extreme.
Ultimately, these men found themselves in terrain that they were not prepared for, both in equipment and skills. There were several decisions, as well as several contributing factors, that were made on that day that led up to the accident:
Their decision to not back track when they realized that they were no longer on the Apex trail led them far from the East Face and the established route. Possibly their success on the Middle Teton the day before bolstered their confidence about staying on route and as a result, they may have underestimated the difficulty of Teewinot and the range in general. Staying on the trail most likely would have kept them on the East Face route; however, very technical terrain would still have been encountered and a similar accident could have happened on that route too.
Failing to recognize the severity of a fall from steep terrain may have changed things as well. From their discussion about turning around, they seemed to be aware that they were pushing the limits of their skills; however often the idea of falling and the resulting consequences seems remote when in fact it can happen almost anywhere at anytime in fifth-class terrain.
Based on their equipment, they seemed to be only partially prepared for the terrain they were in. I would estimate the difficulty from where the fall occurred in the 5.6 to 5.8 range. Most climbers would only venture into such terrain with a climbing harness, helmet, shoes, ropes, and protection. Additionally, most climbers venturing into the high peaks avoid cotton clothing and wear primarily synthetic materials. “Approach shoes” with a sticky rubber sole would be the standard for this type of climb, then switching to actual climbing shoes for the fifth-class portion. Kalmbach was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and standard hiking boots. (Source: E. Visnovske, Ranger, GTNP)