FALL ON ROCK, CLIMBING ALONE, OFF ROUTE, NO CLIMBING EXPERIENCE
Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Garnet Canyon
On July 20, Jillian Drow (21) fell to her death while descending into the South Fork of Garnet Canyon after an ascent of the Middle Teton.
Drow was a member of a party of eight that left the Lupine Meadows Trailhead at approximately 0500. Seven people planned on climbing the southwest couloir of the Middle Teton and one person in the group was attempting a climb of the Grand Teton. Of the seven climbers attempting the Middle Teton, only Drow and Paul Riak (21) summited. Drow and Riak began descending the SW couloir. Drow was moving faster than Riak and the two made a plan to meet in the Garnet Meadows, Drow going ahead. Riak continued descending to the Meadows, where he met the rest of his group, and Drow had not yet arrived. One member of their party went up the South Fork of Garnet Canyon to look for Drow, and Riak and Jen Cotton left to find cell service lower in the canyon, to call GRTE Dispatch. About 2100, a member of their group, M. Domeier, located Drow’s body at the base of a cliff. Domeier relayed this information to Cotton, who informed the SAR Coordinator of Drow’s probable death. Rangers hiked up Garnet Canyon, arriving at the scene at 0130 and determined that Drow was deceased. Drow’s body was flown from Garnet Canyon to Lupine Meadows the following day.
Jillian Drow was an accomplished athlete, but very unfamiliar with the hazards of the mountain environment. Why this tragic event happened and how a similar event could be prevented in the future merits discussion.
The route Drow chose that led her to the cliff where she fell was a very different route than the one she ascended that morning when climbing the Middle Teton. Being aware of your surroundings is essential to traveling safely in the mountains, and it is especially important when in terrain one has not seen before. If a route was reasonable on the ascent, it generally should be followed on the descent.
Traveling alone is never a good idea in the mountains, especially if one has limited experience. Had Drow and Riak stayed together on their descent, the outcome may have been different. Riak followed Drow’s tracks to near the top of the cliff and he was able to go around the cliff, thinking it too steep to descend. If the two were together, it is likely they would have both gone around the cliff.
Drow had already had a long day in the mountains. She had begun hiking at 0500 from the Lupine Meadows trailhead and was on the summit of the peak at 1600 hours. She knew the other members of her original group were waiting for her in the Meadows and she may have felt pressured to make haste to keep that group from waiting. Any pressure she may have put on herself, combined with possible fatigue from a long day in the mountains, may have contributed to this tragic outcome.
The Southwest Couloir of the Middle Teton is a non-technical climbing route, but it is easy for a hiker to get on technical terrain if careful route- finding is not practiced. Many hikers attempting an ascent/descent of this couloir have found themselves in technical terrain without the experience or equipment to cope safely, and many SAR missions have been conducted to rescue these climbers.
A wealth of information in the form of photographs, written descriptions, and personal experience can be found at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station. Climbers beginning their apprenticeship in the Teton Range can benefit greatly from this resource. (Source: Marty Vidak, Incident Commander)