Just Another Weekend In Grand Teton National Park: Climber Rescued, Tragedy Averted, Boaters Pulled To Safety
How was your weekend?
At Grand Teton National Park, rangers and others who work in the park had a heckuva weekend, one that required a mountain rescue, a river rescue, and cool decisions by a van driver forced off Highway 26/89/191 and into the Gros Ventre River.
Here's a look at the weekend workload from Grand Teton as reported by the park's public affairs staff:
Short-Haul Lifts Ailing Climber Off Mount Teewinot
Just before 9 p.m. on Saturday, August 11, Grand Teton rangers rescued a climber from 12,325-foot Teewinot Mountain who was exhibiting acute physical distress. The unidentified 53-year-old climber from Rock Island, Illinois, became ill and incapable of completing a descent from Teewinot after he and two male companions successfully summited the Teton peak early Saturday afternoon.
The climbing party summited Teewinot Mountain about 2:15 p.m. on Saturday. They were making their way back down the mountain and had reached an elevation of about 9,700 feet near two features called the Worshipper and Idol when one of the members of the party began to exhibit a debilitating ailment. The climbers placed an emergency call for help around 6:20 p.m. That call was routed from the Teton County Sheriff's Office to Teton Interagency Dispatch Center, and park rangers were notified of the situation at 6:24 p.m.
Through cell phone conversations with the mountaineers, rangers determined that the ailing climber’s condition may be serious. They summoned the assistance of a Teton Interagency contract helicopter to conduct an expedient rescue via short-haul before the ‘pumpkin hour’ and darkness set in. Although helicopters are often used to facilitate rescues in the Tetons, they are required to stop flying 30 minutes after official sunset: a time known as pumpkin hour.
In a race against the clock, two rangers were inserted via short-haul to the climber’s location on Teewinot. The Illinois climber was quickly assessed for his physical complaints, placed into an aerial evacuation suit, and connected to the short-haul line for transport from Teewinot. One ranger accompanied the climber during the short flight to the Jenny Lake Rescue Cache at Lupine Meadows (elevation 6,760 feet). The climber was then met by emergency medical technicians and a park ambulance and transported to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, Wyoming for further treatment. Once the ailing climber was evacuated by helicopter, the second ranger escorted his two companions out of the backcountry and back to their vehicle.
On Saturday, sunset was 8:31 p.m. and pumpkin hour was at 9:03 p.m. The helicopter was able to shut down operations at the Jackson Hole Airport Helibase at 8:57 p.m., within six minutes of the mandatory time.
Rescued From The Snake
While conducting an afternoon scenic float trip on the Snake River in Grand Teton, a Triangle X Ranch river guide rescued five female boaters after their 12-foot Tributary raft hit a downed tree lodged in a channel near the historic Bar BC Ranch and flipped upside down. All five rafters were thrown into the fast-flowing water and ended up swimming until they could get to a riverbank and pull themselves from the current.
The accident happened about 3 p.m. on Friday. The commercial river guide came upon the scene shortly after. Karen Pond, of Boise, Idaho, was rowing her friend Mary Jo McNamee’s boat when she struck the downed tree with its ‘rootball’ facing upstream. The strong current flipped the raft upside down and temporarily trapped some of the boaters underneath before they were able to swim away from the craft and get downstream, away from the tree and its branches. Pond and her fellow rafters began their float trip on the Snake River at Deadman’s Bar landing, about seven miles upstream of the accident.
The Triangle X Ranch boatman called Teton Interagency Dispatch Center to report the rafting accident at 3:05 p.m. He helped the five women get aboard his raft and 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.
The blue Tributary raft remained wedged under the tree’s rootball on Friday. Park rangers were to attempt to pull it from that position and salvage its contents.
Although Pond had rafting experience on the Hoback River and other area streams, this was her first time on the Snake River. Pond and her four female companions were not wearing life vests at the time of the accident, although they carried jackets with them aboard their watercraft.
Grand Teton National Park’s river rangers express appreciation for the help given by the Triangle X Ranch river guide. Park concessioners are often the first to arrive after a river accident occurs, and their ‘Good Samaritan’ rescues can help boaters who may otherwise be stranded or in need of medical attention before rangers can reach a remote river location.
The Snake is a cold, fast moving river with natural features such as downed trees, logjams, rocks and gravel bars. Avoiding these natural hazards demands attention and skill. All river users are required to carry life vests on board, and are strongly advised to wear these jackets as a first line of safety against drowning.
Cool Thinking Averts Tragedy
A Chevy Astro van carrying four people careened into the Gros Ventre River after getting side-swiped by a Jeep on Highway 26/89/191 near Gros Ventre Junction in Grand Teton on Friday afternoon, August 10. 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. Woodruff’s quick thinking and steady steering likely prevented the van from rolling. None of the occupants in the Chevy Astro or Jeep was injured during the collision or its aftermath.
An Abilene, Texas, man and his wife were traveling southbound on the highway in their Jeep when they pulled to the west side of the road, intending to stop along the shoulder. The Texas driver decided to pull back onto the highway, but failed to see the approaching minivan—which was also southbound. As the Jeep re-entered the lane of traffic, it struck the Chevy Astro, causing it to crash into a guardrail and careen down the roadside embankment before landing in the middle of the river.
Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received notice of the accident about 3 p.m. and rangers immediately responded to the scene from park headquarters at Moose, about seven miles away. Because the Astro minivan’s gas tank ruptured and was leaking fuel into the Gros Ventre River, a Teton County hazmat team and battalion chief also 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 and stabilized the scene, they began to manage one lane of traffic until tow trucks arrived to clear the damaged vehicles. Due to heavy summer traffic on a Friday afternoon in August, vehicles became backed up for a mile or more in both directions for a period of 30 to 40 minutes. 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 spray was deployed during the incident and the minivan passengers were affected by its discharge.
With many distractions (scenery, wildlife and other area attractions), as well as heavy summer traffic, rangers remind motorists to drive defensively and be ready for the unexpected maneuvers performed by drivers sharing the road. Woodruff’s reaction to a sudden swerve of the Jeep into her lane and the side-swipe collision that resulted—plus her ability to maintain control of the minivan as it traveled down the embankment—helped prevent serious injury to herself and the passengers of her vehicle.
The Texas driver received a citation for failure to maintain control of his vehicle, which brings a fine of $125.