Three climbers stood helplessly near the roof of Grand Teton National Park as their friend tumbled 800 feet to his death. The quartet was crossing between the South Teton and Cloudveil Dome when the Montana man slipped on the snow and was unable to halt his slide with his ice axe.
Fifty-five-year-old Chris Pazder, of Helena, slipped Saturday afternoon while crossing the south side of 12,320-foot Gilkey Tower. His fall carried him down over a steep slope of rock before he landed on a ledge on the north side of Avalanche Canyon.
Grand Teton climbing rangers were notified of the accident at approximately 1:15 p.m. on Saturday, when Pazder’s companions placed a cell phone call to Teton Interagency Dispatch Center to report the incident. Rangers immediately organized a rescue operation and requested the assistance of an interagency contract helicopter for air support.
The helicopter flew to Lupine Meadows, picked up several rangers, and undertook an aerial reconnaissance flight. Pazder was located from the air, and rangers were able to verify that he was deceased.
A ranger who was on routine mountain patrol in Garnet Canyon was diverted from his backcountry route to the accident scene. He reached the three members of Pazder’s party just before 5:00 p.m. and assisted them with the descent to their camp in the South Fork of Garnet Canyon. They were able to hike out of Garnet Canyon on Sunday morning.
Because of an incoming thunderstorm and the time of day, rangers decided to wait until Sunday to attempt to recover Pazder. At about 7:00 a.m. Sunday, helicopter operations and the recovery effort resumed. Rangers began their ground-based recovery operation on Sunday morning by flying six rangers to a landing zone near Lake Taminah, in Avalanche Canyon.
The rescue personnel had to ascend 200 feet of technical terrain to the ledge where Pazder came to rest. The recovery operation was completed by early Sunday evening.
This was the third climbing accident in Grand Teton since August 6, and the second located in Avalanche Canyon. On August 6 a 58-year-old Texan was rescued after an extensive effort by 65 searchers to find the man. Richard Felder, from Houston, was descending Avalanche Canyon on Tuesday morning, August 5, when he slipped on a snowfield just below Snowdrift Lake and tumbled at least 10 feet over a cliff. Felder received internal and head injuries, as well as several broken bones, and was unable to resume hiking. He spent an unscheduled night in the backcountry, enduring cold temperatures and his multiple injuries.
Officials say Mr. Felder, who suffered broken ribs, a compound arm fracture, and loss of blood from head and back wounds, would not likely have survived another night in the mountains. He and his wife, Patty, had been hiking the Teton Crest Trail together when they opted to separate from one another at 7 a.m. on Tuesday after camping in the south fork of Cascade Canyon.
While Mr. Felder chose to hike out of the Tetons via a traverse over Avalanche Divide, his wife continued to hike out the more traditional route through Cascade Canyon. They intended to meet at Jenny Lake sometime late Tuesday afternoon. When her husband failed to return by the appointed time, Mrs. Felder reported him overdue to park rangers at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station. Rangers began to coordinate a field search for Felder and planned to get searchers on the ground at first light the next morning.
Felder was found Wednesday evening lying near some rocks at the base of a snowfield about a quarter-mile below Snowdrift Lake outlet; he became visible to the searchers after he waved his arm at the helicopter.
In the other accident, a Salt Lake City woman broke her right leg and some ribs Thursday when she was unable to slow her descent during a free rappel below the summit of the Grand Teton. She was lifted off the mountain by a helicopter.