Climbing Fatality near Gilkey Tower in Grand Teton National Park

August 10, 2008
A 55-year-old man from Helena, Montana took a fatal fall while traversing the ridge between the South Teton and Cloudveil Dome with three companions on Saturday afternoon, August 9. Chris Pazder slipped on snow while crossing the south side of Gilkey Tower (elevation 12,320 ft.) and tumbled about 800 feet over steep rock before landing on a ledge on the north side of Avalanche Canyon. He was carrying an ice axe at the time of the slide, but was unable to self arrest.

Grand Teton National Park 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.