Climber dies after falling 1,000 feet in descent from Middle Teton summit

Grand Teton National Park

Rangers recovered the body Monday of a climber in Grand Teton National Park who fell 1,000 feet to his death. (Ruffin Prevost/Yellowstone Gate file photo)

From Staff Reports

CODY, WYO. — A mountain climber in Grand Teton National Park fell 1,000 feet to his death Sunday while descending from the summit of the Middle Teton.

Justin Harold Beldin, 27 of Benicia, Calif., and two climbing partners had reached the summit of the the 12,804-foot peak and were beginning to descend at about noon when the accident occurred, according to information released Monday by the Grand Teton public affairs office.

Another group of climbers near the summit of the Middle Teton saw Beldin fall and alerted Beldin’s climbing partners, who did not witness the accident.

One of the climbers who saw Beldin fall notified park rangers at 12:09 p.m. Rescuers used a helicopter to locate the site of the fall and  determined that Beldin likely suffered fatal injuries after seeing that he had not moved and was non-responsive, said Grand Teton spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs.

Thunderstorms and heavy rains grounded the search and rescue helicopter Sunday afternoon and evening, she said.

“All hell broke loose,” Skaggs said. “It was a real gully-washer that came in with that storm.”

Skaggs said heavy rains Sunday increased the likelihood of loosening rocks around the recovery zone, and that concerns about rotor wash from helicopter blades dislodging loose rocks prevented helicopter operations at the accident site.

Dense fog Monday morning hampered recovery efforts, preventing helicopter flights to the rugged mountain and delaying a plan to have rangers hike to the point where Beldin’s body was spotted.

Rangers were inserted at about 10:30 a.m. by helicopter to a landing zone at the Lower Saddle of the Grand Teton. They climbed to where Beldin came to rest after his fall and prepared his body for removal from the peak. His body was turned over to the Teton County coroner at 2 p.m. Monday.

Although originally from California, Beldin had been living in Victor, Idaho since April and was working in Jackson, Wyo.

Beldin carried an ice axe with him on the climb, but he was not wearing a helmet, according to park officials.

The Middle Teton is one of the most popular climbs in the Teton Range.

Beldin’s death is the fourth backcountry fatality this year in Grand Teton National Park. Eric Tietze, 31, of Salt Lake City, died July 12 from a fall while climbing Cathedral Traverse on Teewinot Mountain. Local skiers Chris Onufer and Steve Romeo died in a March avalanche on Ranger Peak. Park rangers and others on July 10 rescued Eric Rohner, 27, of Olympia, Wash., after he became stuck on Middle Teton during a solo attempt at the summit.

There are some years when there are no climbing fatalities in Grand Teton, but it is not uncommon to see two or more deaths per year, Skaggs said, with six being the most she could recall from a single year.

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