Grand Teton National Park’s Jenny Lake Rangers, Teton Interagency Helitack, and the Teton Interagency Contract Helicopter came to the rescue of two mountaineers Tuesday, August 15. The mountaineers, Nick Marucci, 30, of Salt Lake City, UT and Laura Robertson, 23, of Orem, UT were attempting to complete the Grand Traverse when they became mentally and physically exhausted after five challenging days in the high mountains.
Marucci and Robertson ascended Teewinot Mountain and Mount Owen on the first two days of their journey before cool temperatures, rain, and hail hampered their progress on Sunday. On Monday, the two climbers ascended a portion of the North Ridge of the Grand Teton despite limited visibility and wet, icy conditions. After ascending a few hundred feet, suffering minor injuries, and loosing manual dexterity due to the cold, they called for help at 4:15 p.m. Their call was forwarded from the Teton County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch to Teton Interagency Dispatch Center.
Jenny Lake Rangers took the call and attempted to talk the mountaineers through various escape route possibilities. Rangers stationed at the Lower Saddle also attempted to reach their location but were unable to do so due to the wet conditions. The rangers then advised Marucci and Robertson to descend to a small ledge and spend the night in their tent before descending two rappels further to the Grandstand feature the following morning.
After discussing options with the climbers to make the long descent out of the mountains Tuesday morning, it became clear that they were too exhausted and an aerial rescue would be the safest and most expeditious form of rescue. Rangers conducted a reconnaissance flight before configuring the helicopter for short-haul rescue.
Once an adequate window between mid-level clouds opened, one ranger was flown to the climbers’ location at 12,600 feet and he prepared the two climbers for extraction by short-haul. Just after noon, Robertson was flown solo to the Lupine Meadows Rescue Cache in an evacuation suit before the ranger flew with Marucci to the same location a few minutes later.
Jenny Lake Rangers advise mountaineers attempting the Grand Traverse to become familiar with portions of the route’s complex terrain before attempting the route in its entirety. Special attention should be given to possible escape routes along the way. Additionally, cool temperatures and precipitation can come to the Teton highcountry with little warning—adequate rain gear is essential.
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.