Injured Hiker Rescued from Paintbrush Canyon

July 19, 2010
Grand Teton National Park rangers rescued an injured hiker from Paintbrush Canyon on Sunday evening, July 18, using the Teton Interagency contract helicopter. John Stewart Laing, age 48, from Peyton, Colorado was hiking near the 10,720-foot elevation Paintbrush Divide when he slid about 30 feet after the snow he was walking across collapsed. Laing then somersaulted down a talus slope another 70 to 100 feet and sustained a serious leg injury. Laing had an ice axe, but fell onto his back and was unable to self arrest.

Laing and his brother were on the second day of an overnight backpacking trip, hiking the Paintbrush-Cascade Canyon loop trail. The men were approaching the top of the east side of the divide when the incident occurred just before 2 p.m.

Laing’s brother, with the help of two hikers, stabilized the leg injury before running down Paintbrush Canyon until he was able to call for help on a cell phone. Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received the report around 3 p.m. and immediately initiated a rescue response.

Rangers conducted an aerial reconnaissance flight to locate Laing before dropping off two rangers on a snowfield near the top of the divide at about 4:20 p.m. Rangers hiked a short distance to the accident site, approximately 200 feet below the Paintbrush Divide summit, and provided Laing with emergency medical care before placing him into a rescue litter for aerial evacuation. Just after 6 p.m., Laing was flown via short-haul to the same snowfield at the top of Paintbrush Divide where the two rangers had been dropped off earlier; three additional rangers were stationed at the snowfield and waiting to receive the litter. Laing was then placed inside of the helicopter for a flight down to Lupine Meadows where a park ambulance was waiting to transport him to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson.

While rangers were in the midst of the Laing rescue, they received a request from Teton County Search and Rescue to assist with another injured hiker in Alaska Basin. Rangers remobilized and flew to Sunset Lake where they met Joanne Demay, age 66, from Salem, Oregon who had sustained a leg injury and was unable to hike out. Grand Teton rangers along with Teton County Search and Rescue personnel decided it would be most efficient to fly out Demay rather than perform a challenging and lengthy 16-mile evacuation by wheeled-litter, putting rescuers and the patient at risk for potential injury.

Rangers remind hikers and climbers that dangerous and variable snow conditions persist above 9,500 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 the day.