A 26-year-old climber who found himself in a perilous position on Teewinot Mountain in Grand Teton National Park resorted to a life-line -- his cellphone -- to summon help, and rangers responded with a helicopter to lift him to safety.
Eric Steinmann, of nearby Wilson, Wyoming, called a friend Wednesday afternoon to say he was in a location on the 12,325-foot mountain from which he could not continue climbing without risk of falling, according to park officials.
The friend in turn contacted Teton Interagency Dispatch Center at 3:55 p.m. to report his friend's predicament, and rangers launched a rescue mission. Due to the late hour of the day, rangers ultimately used a helicopter-assisted evacuation.
During a reconnaissance flight at 4:50 p.m., Mr. Steinmann was located on a steep pinnacle, high on the east face of Teewinot, according to a park release. With little remaining daylight and predicted cold overnight temperatures, a decision was made to deposit one ranger on the site via the short-haul technique and place Mr. Steinmann in "an aerial evacuation suit for a short-haul extraction from the peak."
The ranger reached the stranded climber just before 6 p.m. and prepared him for a flight to the Lupine Meadows rescue cache. The rescue concluded at 6:20 p.m. -- just 40 minutes before “pumpkin hour,” the designated time beyond which the ship cannot fly according to FAA regulations, the park release said.
Mr. Steinmann told rangers that he intended to climb the 4th-class route up the east face of Teewinot Mountain, which is the sixth highest peak in the Teton Range. While Mr. Steinmann was somewhat new to mountaineering, having climbed multiple peaks in the park this summer with various partners, this journey was his first solo climb in the Teton Range, according to park officials.
Although mountain rescue operations have become relatively routine for Grand Teton National Park rangers, these operations demand a high level of preparation, technical skill and expertise -- as well as focused safety deliberations -- before a mission is executed. Many variables can delay or impede a rescue operation and climbers should never take for granted that a rescue is possible. Consequently, climbers should be prepared to initiate a self rescue as an initial option.
Park rangers remind climbers to become familiar with the intended route and carry a route description along during their climb. Also, mountaineers should never climb into a position from which they cannot safely retreat: in other words, get “cliffed out.” Furthermore, rangers recommend that climbers go with a partner or partners as an added measure of safety.
Rangers also stress that backcountry users should carry extra clothing, food and water in the event of an unexpected night out in the Tetons. Ultimately, the responsibility for a climber’s safety rests with him/her and their partners, plus their experience and preparation.