Grand Teton National Park rangers conducted a rescue for a snow climber who fell after slipping and falling on snow Monday afternoon. Robert Henderson, 68, of Wilson, WY was descending the Southeast Ridge of Disappointment Peak when he fell. Rangers responded quickly to the scene and transported Henderson to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, WY.
Henderson’s fall, which took place just before 1:30 p.m. was witnessed from below by two hikers in the Amphitheater Lake area. Those hikers were the first to call Teton Interagency Dispatch Center and report the accident. Shortly thereafter, Henderson’s climbing partner, Dan Matzke of Moose, WY, called the dispatch center and reported that Henderson had lost his footing and slid on the snow before disappearing from view. Henderson’s fall carried him a total of 400 feet downhill, including a 60-80 foot cliff, to a location amongst snow and trees approximately 300 feet above Amphitheater Lake.
A ranger who was climbing on Disappointment Peak met up with Matzke, assisted him on the technical descent to Amphitheater Lake, and reached Henderson’s location at about 3:00 pm. The ranger assessed Henderson, who was alert but had suffered leg and shoulder injuries. Matzke continued downhill with a bystander.
At 4:20 p.m., the Teton Interagency Contract Helicopter inserted two rangers to Henderson’s location via short-haul. The rangers loaded Henderson into a rescue litter and prepared him for extraction by short-haul. One ranger attended Henderson during the short flight out to the Lupine Meadows Rescue Cache at 5:11 p.m. He was transferred to a park ambulance and transported to St. John’s. The helicopter returned to retrieve the remaining two rangers.
Though Henderson and Matzke were planning to climb on snow and had all the necessary gear to do so, park rangers recognize that many visitors to the Tetons may not be expecting wintertime conditions in June. Rangers advise that elevations above 9,000 feet are mostly still snow-covered, and appropriate knowledge and experience using an ice ax and crampons is necessary for traversing steep terrain.
Short-haul is a rescue technique where an individual or gear is suspended below the helicopter on a 150 to 250 foot rope. This method allows a rescuer more direct access to an injured party, and it is often used in the Teton Range where conditions make it difficult to land a helicopter in the steep and rocky terrain.