Injured Climber Evacuated by Helicopter from Teewinot Mountain

July 12, 2009
An injured climber was evacuated by helicopter from Teewinot Mountain on Saturday afternoon, July 11, in Grand Teton National Park. Sam Russell, 22, of Jackson, Wyoming sustained serious injuries when he slipped on snow and tumbled about 200 feet before landing on a break between two snow patches, while attempting to descend the North West Couloir (elevation 12,000 ft). He was wearing crampons and carrying an ice axe at the time, but was unable to perform a self arrest.

Russell’s climbing party had successfully reached the summit of Teewinot and was on their way down when the accident occurred; all of the climbers had ice axes and crampons, but none were wearing helmets. The group decided to make their decent via the South West Couloir but missed their intended route and ended up on the more technical North West Couloir.

Grand Teton National Park rangers were notified of the accident at around 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, when Russell’s companions placed a call for help from a cell phone. Rangers immediately organized a rescue operation and requested the assistance of an interagency contract helicopter for support in the rescue. The helicopter flew to Lupine Meadows, picked up several rangers, and performed an aerial reconnaissance flight. Rangers were able to remain in contact via cell phone with a member of Russell’s climbing party, which was helpful in pinpointing his location on the mountain.

A suitable helicopter landing zone near the accident site allowed rangers to arrive on scene just before 2 p.m. Rangers provided Russell with emergency medical care before placing him into a rescue litter for aerial evacuation. He was then flown via the short-haul method at 2:30 p.m.—with a ranger accompanying him below the helicopter—directly to the Jenny Lake rescue cache located on the valley floor. A park ambulance transported Russell to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson for further treatment of his injuries.

Park rangers also evacuated Russell’s companions via helicopter after helping them descend to the high west shoulder of Teewinot Mountain.

Rangers remind climbers that dangerous and variable snow conditions persist above 9,000 feet. Backcountry users are advised to stop in or call a visitor center or ranger station on the day of travel to obtain the most current trail, route and snow conditions. Climbers should also note that most climbing accidents involve slips on snow, and most occur on the descent at the end of a long day.

This marks the first major mountain rescue operation in Grand Teton National Park this summer.