Lost Skiers Rescued from Granite Canyon

January 29, 2009
Grand Teton National Park rangers collaborated with Teton County Search and Rescue personnel to locate and rescue by helicopter two lost skiers in the upper reaches of Granite Canyon on Thursday morning, January 29. Darin Gamba, age 32, and Patrick Thornberry, age 39, both residents of Jackson, Wyoming, became disoriented in white-out conditions and accidentally took a wrong turn after exiting an out-of-bounds gate at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort around
1 p.m. on Wednesday, January 28. Gamba and Thornberry spent the night out in the mountains with temperatures hovering near 1 degree Fahrenheit. They were located during an aerial reconnaissance flight at 9 a.m. Thursday and flown from the backcountry at 9:30 a.m. This marks the second incident in a single week of skiers getting lost in the park’s backcountry and spending a night exposed to the elements.

Gamba and Thornberry exited the upper gate at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Wednesday afternoon, intending to ski into the Rock Springs drainage. White-out conditions obscured the route, causing them to ski westward and ultimately into Granite Canyon, rather than southwest into the Rock Springs area. The two men searched for ski tracks to confirm their whereabouts, but by 2:30 p.m., they realized that they were not where they intended to be. About an hour before sunset, they decided to make preparations to spend the night in the backcountry.

Gamba and Thornberry dug a snow cave, collected pine boughs to insulate themselves against the snow, and made a fire. They were carrying food and water; however they also melted snow to replenish their supplies. While the two men did not have a map, compass or GPS device, they did have extra clothing and full avalanche gear— recommended equipment for anyone entering the Teton backcountry.

Early Thursday morning, Gamba and Thornberry began skiing up slope in order to get a clear view above tree line and determine their location. When they spotted Mount Hunt, they realized they were in Granite Canyon. The Teton County Search and Rescue contract helicopter, carrying a park ranger and county rescue staff, spotted the skiers’ tracks and eventually located them about 9 a.m. near the Shady Lady Couloir. Rescuers communicated to the two men, directing them to ski to a landing zone where the ship could safely touch down. Gamba and Thornberry were then flown to the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

Park rangers credit Gamba and Thornberry with doing everything right to keep themselves safe and attempt their own self rescue. They carried the basic necessities and kept their wits about them during an unexpected night out in the Tetons.

Backcountry users are cautioned to be prepared with the knowledge, skills, and emergency equipment necessary to safely recreate in the park’s backcountry areas before attempting any winter excursion. Park rangers also remind backcountry users to pay special attention to avalanche and weather conditions before entering remote areas outside of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort boundaries.

Wyo Resident Sentenced for Assault Incident

January 29, 2009
An investigation conducted by Grand Teton National Park rangers and the U.S. Attorney’s office resulted in the felony assault conviction and a recent sentence for Michael Jay Smith of Pinedale, Wyoming. Smith was accused of assaulting a park visitor on the Moose-Wilson Road in July of 2007, and following a guilty plea to a charge of Felony Assault Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury, Smith was sentenced in federal district court on December 11, 2008. Smith’s sentence includes 18 months in federal custody, 3 years of supervised probation upon release, as well as restitution fees.

On July 20, 2007, Grand Teton National Park rangers responded to a report of a serious physical altercation on the Moose-Wilson Road. Smith apparently became impatient with a slow moving vehicle whose driver and occupants were trying to locate wildlife along this scenic country road in the southwestern portion of the park. Due to its narrow lanes and winding nature, the Moose-Wilson Road requires slow speeds, especially when the presence of wildlife causes traffic congestion. When the driver of the slow moving vehicle stopped, Smith physically and forcefully assaulted him, rendering him unconscious; Smith then fled the scene. This act of physical assault serves as an example of “road rage,” a situation more often associated with urban areas or interstate highways.

Upon the arrival of park rangers, witnesses were able to provide information about the incident. The initial investigating park ranger determined that Smith attacked the driver of the vehicle in front of him after he stopped to watch a moose on the side of the road along with other wildlife viewers. Park rangers used accounts supplied by witnesses, as well as surveillance evidence, to develop information that eventually led to the use of photographic lineups and the subsequent positive identification of Smith as the assailant.

Smith was eventually indicted by a federal grand jury in March of 2008 and arrested on a federal warrant in the town of Jackson without incident. He was recently sentenced in mid December 2008.

A successful investigation and federal prosecution of this case resulted from the combined law enforcement work of several park rangers, as well as to the invaluable assistance provided by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Stranded Skiers Rescued from Granite Canyon

January 26, 2009
Grand Teton National Park rangers and two Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski patrollers conducted a search and rescue operation for two stranded skiers in the backcountry of Granite Canyon on Monday, January 26. Chris Buechley, age 29, and Dan Myers, age 27, both residents of Jackson, Wyoming, took a wrong turn after exiting an out-of-bounds gate at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort around
2 p.m. on Sunday January 25, and spent an unexpected night in the mountains without adequate clothing or shelter. Buechley and Myers were located in good physical condition at about 12 noon on Monday, and they were safely escorted out of the Teton canyon by rescue personnel.

Buechley and Myers intended to ski into Rock Springs Bowl on Sunday afternoon, January 25. They exited the second out-of-bounds gate at the top of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, but turned north and entered Granite Canyon instead of turning south where they had planned to ski. They did not realize that they were off course, and stranded, until after they had traveled some distance into Grand Teton’s backcountry. When darkness overtook them, they tried to camp for the night; however, they did not have extra clothing, or basic emergency gear, to use in warming themselves, so they decided to continue moving when they became too cold. As they were following Granite Creek downstream, Buechley fell through a thin bridge of snow and landed in knee deep water. In addition to getting wet, Buechley lost one ski in the process of scrambling out of the streambed, which hampered his ability to continue skiing. The two men used their cell phone about 6:30 on Monday morning to make a 911 call for help, and that call was received by a Teton County dispatcher. Buechley and Myers reported that they were stranded somewhere south of the ski resort because they still believed that they had skied toward Rock Springs Bowl; however, a GPS locator on the cell phone pinpointed their position as being in Granite Canyon within Grand Teton National Park — several miles north of where they claimed to be. Shortly after making their emergency call, the cell phone lost service. Teton County dispatch alerted park rangers of the situation and a search and rescue operation was initiated.

Two park rangers used a snowmobile to access the Granite Canyon trailhead from park headquarters in Moose; rangers then positioned their snowmobiles on the valley floor and began to ski into the canyon. Meanwhile, patrol staff from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort skied into Granite Canyon from the summit of Rendezvous Mountain to search the upper reaches of Granite Canyon. Both rescue parties reached the stranded skiers about 12 noon and provided Buechley with a spare ski to assist him in skiing out. The two men were located about two miles west of the mouth of Granite Canyon.

Backcountry users are cautioned to be prepared with the knowledge, skills, and emergency equipment necessary to safely recreate in the park’s backcountry areas before attempting a winter excursion. Park rangers also remind backcountry users to pay special attention to avalanche and weather conditions before entering remote areas outside of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort boundaries.

Grand Teton National Park Employees Give “Day of Service” to Local Community

Habitat for Humanity "Day of Service" Crew
on Martin Luther King Day
January 21, 2009
Grand Teton National Park employees donated a “Day of Service” to their local community of Jackson, Wyoming in observance of Martin Luther King Day on Monday, January 19, 2009. Park Service staff contributed their time and energy in answer to the nation-wide challenge from President Barack Obama, who called upon American citizens to provide community service during the federal holiday.

A team of 13 Grand Teton employees joined 17 other community volunteers to help with the construction of two houses being built by the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate; these houses are destined to become homes for two well-deserving Jackson families. Park staff also collected over 200 pounds of food for the Jackson Cupboard, a community-based pantry, to help stock shelves with groceries for families in need. In addition to the food drive and building projects by Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Teton Area, several park naturalists provided educational programs for two different audiences. Park interpretive rangers organized a field trip on Teton geology for the Jackson Hole Middle School’s gifted and talented students; and park naturalists also gave a hands-on program about park wildlife to the elderly residents of the Living Center, a nursing care facility, as well as to several pre-school students who were visiting the Living Center on Martin Luther King Day.

These multiple outreach initiatives offered Grand Teton employees an opportunity to give back to a generous and highly-engaged community that regularly supports park programs and projects with volunteer assistance throughout the year. It also provided park staff with the chance to contribute to their local community in a direct and tangible way.

National Park Service employees who participated in the “Day of Service” projects felt that it was a worthy and rewarding experience, and many expressed an interest in seeking additional opportunities to participate as community volunteers in the future.