Grand Teton National Park rangers organized a full-scale search for two overdue backcountry skiers on Tuesday morning, April 19, after an initial search late Monday proved unsuccessful. Approximately 40 rescuers and support staff assembled at first light on Tuesday to begin an extensive search of the Meadows area and other locations within Garnet Canyon near the Grand Teton and other high peaks. Walker Kuhl, age 27, from Salt Lake City, Utah and Gregory Seftick, age 31, of Columbia Falls, Montana set out to camp overnight in the Teton Range on Saturday, April 16. According to their backcountry permit, they intended to explore Teepe Pillar and Teepe Glacier—features near the Grand Teton. When Kuhl failed to report to work in Salt Lake City on Monday morning, park rangers were notified and the initial search began.
Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received a call from the Teton County Sheriff’s Office at 11:15 a.m. on Monday, informing them of concern for the whereabouts of Kuhl and his friend, Seftick. Kuhl’s girlfriend contacted the Sheriff’s Office with information that he failed to report to work that morning after a weekend trip to Grand Teton National Park. Upon receiving notification of overdue backcountry skiers, rangers checked the Taggart Lake trailhead and found the vehicles owned by the two men. This discovery prompted a search and rescue operation.
Because of unstable snow conditions on Monday afternoon, rangers chose not to use a ground search, which would put rescue personnel at risk. Instead, a helicopter reconnaissance flight took place late Monday. Erratic winds and poor visibility pre-empted a thorough search and at sunset, rangers were forced to suspend the operation and make plans for a larger search effort Tuesday.
Four teams with four rescuers each began skiing into Garnet Canyon from the Teton Park Road, followed by an operation team that will support the advance teams with radio communications and other needs. A helicopter flight was launched at 11:20 a.m. after weather conditions allowed and visibility improved. The rescue teams will conduct a methodical search of several areas throughout the Garnet Canyon area, and focus on probable locations where Kuhl and Seftick might have gone.
Both Kuhl and Seftick have some knowledge of the Teton backcountry and have previously climbed and skied in the Teton Range. They carried avalanche equipment with them and are familiar with the use of such equipment.
Avalanche conditions over the past few days were rated as “considerable,” by the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center, meaning that human-triggered avalanches were likely. Today’s avalanche report states that moderate danger exists in high elevations above the 9,000 feet and low danger for mid to low elevations from 6,000 feet to 9,000 feet. Six to seven inches of new snow fell overnight at the 9,300 and 9,580-foot elevation snow plot stations on Rendezvous Mountain.
Further information will be available as the search effort progresses.