By Ruffin Prevost
MOOSE, WYO. — First responders in Grand Teton National Park were busy over the weekend, when an ailing climber was rescued by helicopter, a minivan was sent into the Gros Ventre River after a highway collision and rafters on the Snake River were tossed overboard and assisted by a commercial guide.
With just minutes until the day’s last rays of light faded Saturday, Grand Teton National Park rangers used a helicopter to transport an ailing climber to a landing zone near Lupine Meadows at approximately 8:30 p.m.
A 53-year-old climber from Illinois became ill and incapable of completing a descent from 12,325-foot Teewinot Mountain after he and two companions successfully summited the Teton Range peak early Saturday afternoon, according to information released by the Grand Teton public affairs office. The climber’s name has not been released.
Park Ranger Chris Valdez briefed Yellowstone Gate on rescue operations at the Jenny Lake Rescue Cache as the climber was being transferred by helicopter from the mountain. Valdez confirmed that the helicopter rescue crew used the short-haul technique to rescue the climber.
In short-haul helicopter rescues, the subject is suspended below the helicopter on a rope approximately 150 feet long, often with a rescue specialist also attached below the aircraft. The 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.
The climber’s illness was not detailed in information later released by park officials, which stated only that the subject “began to exhibit a debilitating ailment” while descending from the peak. The climber was transported by park ambulance from Lupine Meadows to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, Wyo. for further treatment.
Four people have died in the Teton Range backcountry so far this year, and several search and rescue operations have already been carried out.
Last month, climber Eric Tietze, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah fell approximately 1,000 feet to his death while attempting to complete a climb of the Cathedral Traverse. Tietze had separated from his partners as they were completing the final rappels off of a shoulder peak west of Teewinot Mountain.
Boaters assisted by commercial guide
While conducting an scenic float trip on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park, a Triangle X Ranch river guide assisted five boaters after their 12-foot raft hit a downed tree near the Bar BC Ranch Friday afternoon.
The raft flipped over and all five rafters were thrown into the fast-flowing water, according to a statement released by the Grand Teton public affairs office. The rafters swam ashore and were found by a passing commercial river guide shortly after 3 p.m.
Karen Pond, of Boise, Idaho, was rowing a friend’s raft when she struck the downed tree and the craft capsized. Pond and her fellow rafters began their float trip on the Snake River at Deadman’s Bar landing, about seven miles upstream from the accident.
The Triangle X Ranch boatman called to report the accident and helped the five boaters, all women, get aboard his raft. He floated them with his onboard guests to the Moose landing, where park rangers were able to meet the rafters and determine that none needed medical care.
Although Pond had rafting experience on the Hoback River and other area streams, this was her first time on the Snake River, park officials said. Pond and her four companions were not wearing life vests, although they carried them aboard their raft. All river users are required to carry life vests, and are strongly advised to wear them as a first line of safety against drowning.
Collision sends van into river
A Chevy Astro van carrying four people careened into the Gros Ventre River on Friday after being side-swiped by a Jeep on Highway 26/89/191 near Gros Ventre Junction in Grand Teton National Park.
The driver of the van, Joanna Woodruff, a Teton Science Schools employee, steered her vehicle down a relatively steep embankment before it came to rest upright in the river. Park officials said Woodruff’s quick thinking and steady steering likely prevented the van from rolling. None of the occupants in either vehicle was injured as a result of the collision.
An Abilene, Texas man and his wife were traveling southbound on the highway in their Jeep when they pulled to shoulder of the road, intending to stop. The driver of the Jeep, whose name was not released, decided instead to pull back onto the highway, but failed to see the minivan approaching from behind. As the Jeep re-entered the lane of traffic, it struck the Chevy Astro, causing it the minivan to crash into a guardrail and careen down the roadside embankment before landing in the middle of the river.
Because the Astro minivan’s gas tank ruptured and was leaking fuel into the Gros Ventre River, a Teton County hazardous materials team and battalion chief responded to clean up the spill.
The accident brought traffic on both lanes of Highway 26/89/191 to a halt for several minutes. Once park rangers assessed the occupants of each vehicle for injuries, they began to manage one lane of traffic until tow trucks arrived to clear the damaged vehicles. Vehicles were backed up for a mile or more in both directions for a period of 30 minutes or more. Rangers were able to clear the scene about three hours after the initial call.
The Astro van carried Woodruff and three other Teton Science Schools employees who conduct bird-banding projects for the environmental education center. Although no one was injured, a can of bear deterrent aerosol spray was deployed during the incident, aggravating vehicle occupants.
The Jeep driver was cited and fined $125 for failure to maintain control of his vehicle.
Park rangers remind motorists to drive defensively and be ready for the unexpected maneuvers performed by others.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].