Updated: Two Ice Climbers Die in Fall Into Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Silver Cord Cascade is located on the south rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone downstream of Artist Point. NPS map.

The bodies of two Montana men who died in a fall while ice climbing in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park were recovered from the canyon late Tuesday afternoon, park officials said.

Despite poor weather conditions and melting ice that created dangerous conditions, rangers were able to recover the remains of Mark William Ehrich, 28, and Michael Alan Kellch, 29, of Bozeman, Montana, the park said in a release. Both have immediate family members who live in Wyoming.

The two, who reportedly had several years of ice and mountain climbing experience, entered the park Sunday after telling friends they planned a day hike from Artist Point. When they had not returned by Monday, friends contacted the park.

It was later discovered the two men had actually arrived in the park Saturday, and intended to ice climb Silver Cord Cascade. This series of waterfalls begins at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, northeast of Artist Point, dropping several hundred feet to the canyon floor and into the Yellowstone River.

Members of the park’s technical rescue team, the wildland fire crew, three climbing rangers from Grand Teton National Park, and a helicopter were all involved in the rescue and recovery effort.

A rescue team member rappelled into the canyon as darkness fell Monday evening, and found the two dead on a rock ledge. Initial observations of the scene and gear configuration indicate that the fall was likely due to collapse of the ice column during the men’s ascent.

One victim was removed from the canyon early Tuesday afternoon. Melting ice near the rock ledge where the two men were discovered 300 feet beneath the canyon rim threatened to halt the recovery effort until Wednesday morning. However, use of a helicopter permitted the safe recovery of the second victim late Tuesday afternoon.

The accident remains under investigation.

All hiking and climbing in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is prohibited from Brink of the Upper Falls down river up to, but not including, the Silver Cord Cascade drainage. Rangers believe climbers attempt Silver Cord Cascade one to three times a year.

These are the first accident fatalities in Yellowstone since a drowning in the southwest corner of the park last September.

Comments

Kurt - Are these basically frozen waterfalls? Is it typical to climb these cascades in late May?

Yes on your first question, Mike. Not sure on your second, though the park did note that it was a "late season" climb.

Truthfully, I didn't know they allowed ice climbing in the park. Something to follow up on.

They were two wonderful Dudes! so full of life, funny, and great ice climbers... they just recently got back from a trip to AK climbing some gnarly lines.. thoughts and prayers go out to the families.. I will be drinking some beers tonight for my Bros Mark and Mike!!! you will be missed!!!

Ice climbing is an incredibly high risk sport and the cost to public for either recovering bodies or rescuing stranded climbers should be borne by the sport in some way. The same is true for many other types of climbing. Maybe there should be either a fee/tax added to the equipment or a specialty insurance required for these activities, rather than always trying to ban them. The public shouldn't get stuck with the tab from those who push the limits.

Good men, they were the kind. My love to their families. We miss you boys.

Yo Rich, why don't you encase yourself in a bubble forever and we won't have to get stuck with the cost of you living life to the fullest. The public "gets stuck" with very little in the way of fees for rescues every year when taken into the context of larger issues like medical care for the indigent for example, (35 million/year at one hospital in Denver...I don't know the national statistic off the top of my head but I know it is large). Personally I would rather see my taxes go to these efforts instead of for bombs for any war and I'm sure that the amount of taxpayers dollars that has gone to AIG bonuses in the last year far exceeds the costs of all climber rescues in the nation combined. So please if you are going to use this sad story to get on a soap box make an informed argument that has a legitimate and relevant basis.

Rant aside. Let these men rest, they died living life and doing something they no doubt loved while also excepting the risk that they faced. One thing that is severely undervalued in America is a noble death and to die while quietly pursuing a dangerous passion is noble.

There are objective risks in ice climbing - no doubt. I've been doing it for 28 years now, and know a bit about the topic. I'm also on the Gallatin County SAR technical/heli rescue team. I estimate that for every climber we have to rescue there are at least 50 lost/injured/drowned hunters, horseback riders, 4-wheelers, fishermen or hikers. That's where the bulk of the SAR budget goes. Of course, that's not as sensational as "crazy ice climbers", so it doesn't make the news.

Great guys! The world is a darker place without them...they will be missed. They were two best friends doing what they loved. RIP

They lived life and followed their dreams. It is all loss for everyone.

I'd bet we spend a whole lot more rescuing dumb lost fat dudes in our national parks then Ice climbers

Weirdo who criticized the ice-climber rescue efforts. Extremely offensive, especially if you were acquainted with these men. How would their families react to that criticism? Yikes! IMO should re-think that out of respect to the fallen. Maybe post a tad later.

I knew one of these men. I would give my "tax dollars", and what net profit I have willingly, to their recovery or any other doing what they did, than indulging the sense of entitlement, laziness, and selfishness that has taken over the American attitude and behavior. And yes, I am a 30 something, hardworking, married, homeowner who made choices knowing I would pay for them, not the American people. Rich, a better tax would apply to the cigarettes, processed foods, and fast food and pop that causes more health hazards to a greater number of citizens and thus affecting our national debt more than any and all climbers thus far. Or lets just tax everything more and allow our government more liberties to use our money to take a dinner date to NYC. Lets just keep heading into socialism while we are at it..............oh wait,that is already happening.

I guess we all can get on our soap box huh?

Just as an aside, there are some extremely well-known and well-respected members of the ice-climbing community. Wasn't Yvon Chouinard extremely influential in the field of modern ice-climbing techniques and equipment?

My heart and prayers go out the the families and friends of these 2 young men. You concern me Rich that the first mention in your comment was the financial cost of their recovery. I won't repeat some of which has already been said above, but where is your human compassion. Enough said.

"[H]iking and climbing in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is prohibited... but not including, the Silver Cord Cascade drainage."

The way I read this, they were not climbing in a prohibited area. In fact, it's unclear from Yellowstone's site whether there are any rules either way on ice climbing or rock climbing. The only real reference I can find to climbing (ice or otherwise) on the site is this perennial paragraph in the newspaper "Climbing isn’t recommended due to loose, crumbly rock; it’s illegal in the Grand Canyon. Contact the backcountry office for information."

Maybe NPS should put something on their web site that requires all ice and rock climbers to register. Maybe that would require some rule-making first, but it looks like they could use some clarity for safety's sake.

My understanding is that the rock is rather crumbly because of exposure to geothermal activity, which gives the rock that yellowish hue. Apparently the occasional steam vent opens up in the rock. It's not supposed to make for very good climbing conditions, and of course it's prohibited in lots of areas.

I suppose ice climbing comes with certain risks.

As far as registering to climb in NPS areas - I've rarely heard of it. Some wilderness areas require a climbing permit to make mountain ascents (Mt McKinley or Mt Rainier). However - rock climbing typically doesn't require a permit or even a registration. Nobody rock climbing in Yosemite is required to get a permit or register. I've seen climbers at Pinnacles NM. Other than numerical limits on the number of climbers on a particular route (signs are clearly posted) there is no requirement to get a permit or to register.

ditto on rich and now's not the time to talk about taxes or who's paying what for what we all pay taxes too. two young men died for god's sake!!!

Climbing has huge risks associated with it whether it is rock, mountain or ice climbing. It is very sad that the young men fell as they did and their families, friends, and others will miss them dearly.

Registering for climbing as a general requirement is totally unneccessary. Most, not all will leave word with family as these young men did, or will stop by a ranger station and leave word where they are going. Unless the climb/hike is restricted for number purposes such as Mt Hood, Rainer, The Subway in Zion or someother similar outing; registering is just adding to the required load of paperwork the NPS/NFS already deals with seems unreasonable.

These were 2 great guys doing what they loved. RIP fella's, you will be missed.

Peace be with them and their families. And I thank SAR people (everywhere) for the great job they do -- no matter who they are rescuing or, sadly, recovering. They too put their lives at risk, in the service of others.

How sad-- but how could you ask for a more beautiful place to leave this world??