American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Loose Block Pulled Off — Fall on Rock, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Middle Teton

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2012

LOOSE BLOCK PULLED OFF – FALL ON ROCK

Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Middle Teton

On August 9, a party of three was intending to climb the Buckingham Ridge on the Middle Teton. They were ascending the fourth-class approach slabs, unroped, when Steven Zalesky (43) pulled a large loose block off and fell about ten feet to a ledge and then tumbled an additional 60 feet. Zaleski’s partners, M. Sohasky and D. Hemken, were out of sight of Zalesky when they heard rockfall. They shouted to Zalesky to see if he was injured, and Zalesky responded that he was “alive, but hurt”.

They quickly down-climbed to his location and assessed his condition.

The loose block had grazed the right side of his head and shoulder, and his left ankle was probably injured when he hit the ledge. He was unable to walk after the accident. The most experienced climber, D. Hempken, descended the adjacent Ellingwood Couloir to the South Fork of Garnet Canyon to get better cell phone reception. M. Sohasky was eventually able to get cell phone reception from the accident site and made the initial call to TIDC.

Ranger Vidak requested a helicopter from the Teton Heli-base. After scouting the accident site, Heli 25 dropped rangers Springer and Edmonds at a landing zone in the South Fork of Garnet Canyon. Rangers Springer and Edmonds began climbing to the accident site (11,150 feet elevation) and arrived there at 1112.

Zalesky did not lose consciousness and was alert and oriented. Because of significant rockfall danger in the immediate area, it was decided to “Screamer Suit” the two climbers from the scene, with a ranger attending each climber. At 1158 Heli 20 departed 701 to extract Edmonds and Zalesky from the accident site. Attached to the short-haul line was a second Screamer Suit for Springer and the uninjured climber (Sohasky) to use for their extraction. At about 1200, Edmonds and the patient were extracted from the accident site and delivered to the rangers in the Garnet Canyon. Springer and the Sohasky were extracted from the scene at about 1215 and were delivered to the same LZ. Two more helicopter flights delivered Zalesky, Edmonds, Johnson, Springer, and Tyson to the cache by 1343. Sohasky and Hempken hiked out to the Lupine Meadows Trailhead.

Analysis

D. Hemken had 30 years of climbing experience and M. Sohasky had over eight years of experience. They had done several routes in the Tetons. The Buckingham Ridge (III 5.7) was well within their ability level. Steven Zalesky was the least experienced of the three, but had done a few routes in the Tetons and at least one (Jensen Ridge on Symmetry Spire) that was comparable in difficulty to the Buckingham.

The climbing party was doing everything right: they left their camp in the Garnet Meadows by 5:30 a.m., they were wearing helmets and rock shoes on the rock approach to the Buckingham Ridge, and they were on-route. The approach to the climb is mainly scrambling and is normally done un-roped, if one uses good route finding.

Most, if not all, of the mountaineering and rock routes on the higher peaks in the Teton Range have their share of loose rock, and one must be very careful when choosing hand and foot holds. Many very skilled climbers have had accidents involving loose rock, and one must be diligent in climbing through third and fourth-class terrain. (Source: Ranger Martin Vidak – Incident Commander)

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