A California man who summited the Middle Teton in Grand Teton National Park apparently slipped and fell approximately 1,000 feet to his death while descending the crag.
Justin Harold Beldin, 27, of Benicia, California, was taking a different route down from the 12,804-foot peak from his two companions when he fell about noon Sunday, according to park officails.
Another group of climbers near the summit of the Middle Teton saw Mr. Beldin fall from sight toward the Northwest Couloir side of the ridge that separates it from the Southwest Couloir," park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said Monday.
"They hailed Beldin’s companions—who were already working their way down from the summit via the Southwest Couloir—to alert them of the situation," she said. "Beldin’s climbing partners did not witness the accident, but upon hearing of his fall, they tried to catch sight of him down the Northwest Couloir. They yelled out his name in hopes of getting a response, but received no answer in return."
According to park rangers, a member of the climbing party that witnessed the man's fall called the Jenny Lake Ranger Station directly by cell phone at 12:09 p.m. to report the accident. Rangers immediately began to mobilize a response, and summoned a Teton Interagency contract helicopter to conduct an aerial reconnaissance flight in order to ascertain Beldin’s location on the Middle Teton.
"Rangers saw Beldin during that over flight and determined that he likely suffered fatal injuries in a fall of approximately 1,000 feet," said Ms. Skaggs. "An approaching thunderstorm forced the ship to land and wait for better weather. Unfortunately the storm worsened, causing rangers to postpone their attempt to reach Beldin. An off-duty ranger at the Lower Saddle hiked to a high point where he could view Beldin. Due to weather conditions, rock fall, and the nature of the terrain, if was unsafe for him to attempt to
reach the victim in the couloir."
Rangers were able to reach Mr. Beldin's body on Monday under somewhat more favorable weather conditions. While heavy fog delayed an aerial recovery operation, about 10:30 a.m., four rangers were inserted by helicopter to the 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 evacuation from the peak. Beldin’s body was turned over to the Teton County coroner at 2 p.m. Monday.
Although originally from California, Mr. Beldin had been living in Victor, Idaho, since April and working in Jackson, Wyoming. He only recently teamed up with his two companions to make the climb. One of his partners had been acquainted with him since April; the other climber only met him on Sunday morning," the park reported.
While Mr. Beldin carried an ice axe with him on the climb, he was not wearing a helmet, the park noted.
The Middle Teton is one of the most popular climbs in the Teton Range and is often reached via the Southwest Couloir. The rock climbing section of the Northwest Couloir is rated a 5.6 on the Yosemite Decimal System—a set of numeric ratings describing the difficulty of climbs. There is also a snow and ice section of the couloir that is rated a 3 on the Alpine Ice numeric rating scale.
This marks the fourth fatality in the Teton Range this year. Earlier, two backcountry skiers were killed in an avalanche on Ranger Peak on March 7, and a climber fell to his death on Teewinot on July 12.