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The Ranger Boulder


Proposal: create a 2,000-square-foot climbing boulder, adjacent to the Teton Boulder Park, that honors the contributions of the Jenny Lake Rangers to Teton climbing history.

Background: In 2011, The Teton Boulder Project — a public/private partnership between the town of Jackson, Teton County and the Teton climbing community — designed and built the Teton Boulder Park in Phil Baux Park at the base of Snow King as an interactive tribute to the history of Teton mountaineering. 

Elements of the boulder park include the Enclosure, a circle of granite slabs that commemorates climbers lost to the mountains, and the Historical Wall, which showcases the significant ascents in Teton climbing.

These two components complement a world-class public bouldering park that has become a dynamic community asset as well as a destination for visiting climbers from around the world.

Although the current park is rich in history, it omits a seminal chapter of Teton mountaineering: the evolution of mountain rescue.

Grand Teton National Park’s first responders, the Jenny Lake Rangers, have saved the lives of climbers for generations, serving as the Tetons’ 911 since 1929, when Fritiof Fryxell and Phil Smith became the park’s first seasonal rangers.

The Ranger Boulder, which is included in the Phil Baux Park Master Redevelopment Plan, would honor the contributions of the Jenny Lake Rangers while addressing the Park’s popularity in a way that continues to add to its value as a community asset. 

Historical Overview 

When Paul Petzoldt took part in the first recorded rescue in Teton history in 1925, he began a legacy of climbers helping climbers that continues to this day. Nearly 100 years later, the Jenny Lake Rangers provide a system of care that modern mountaineers take for granted—one that has evolved via a series of seminal moments. 

From the post-World War II formation of a more formal rescue system to the advent of helicopter rescue to the application of shorthaul technique and the arrival of cell phones, the history of mountain rescue in the Tetons has evolved alongside the development of the Jenny Lake Rangers, an elite rescue force that has saved countless lives, comforted the loved ones of those they were unable to bring home, and influenced mountain rescue on every continent. 

Still comprised first and foremost of climbers, the Jenny Lake Rangers remain the ultimate backstop for our adventures in the mountains. While no climber ever wants to be on the receiving end of their professionalism and care, the comfort and relief they bring when needed is undeniable. This is our tribute to their contribution to Teton mountaineering.

Timeline of Significant Historical Moments

July 1925, Grand Teton, East Ridge, First Recorded Rescue in the Teton Range. While attempting to negotiate the Molar Tooth on the Grand Teton’s East Ridge with Paul Petzoldt, Harold Criger and Melvin Whitehead, Ralph Herron fell some 120 feet. He was knocked unconscious, broke a shoulder and knee and cracked some ribs. Herron’s partners carried him off the mountain, sliding him on snow when possible and piggybacking him when not. After a night in the backcountry, the group reached a ranch, where a medical student attended to Herron’s injuries. Reference; reference 2

August 4, 1925, Grand Teton, First Recorded Climbing Fatality in the Teton Range. Theodore Teepe and W.D. Young hired packer Gibb Scott to guide them to the top of the Grand via the Owen-Spaulding Route—the only route on the mountain at the time—for the peak’s 13th ascent. On the descent, Teepe slipped. Within seconds he hit a jagged rock in the middle of the glacier that would come to bear his name. He died instantly. Scott left for help. A small rescue team, supervised by Paul Petzoldt, assembled, reaching the accident site at 9 a.m. the next morning. Rescuers wrapped Teepe’s body in canvas, dragged it down the “Teepe Glacier,” lowered it over steep rocks and then carried it to awaiting horses. Rererence; reference 2; reference 3; The Grand Controversy: Bonney and Bonney, pp. 196-200. Teton Tales: Petzoldt, pp. 61-68.

1929, First Seasonal Rangers Appointed. Soon after the February 26, 1929, establishment of Grand Teton National Park, two climbing pioneers were hired as the park’s first “Naturalist Rangers.” (Rangers at that time were considered Naturalist Rangers; they were also seasonal, as they didn’t work in winter.) With a PhD in geology, Fritiof Fryxell was initially retained for his geological expertise. Phil Smith, a homesteader on the side of Blacktail Peak with extensive climbing experience both in the Tetons and in Colorado’s Front Range, became his fellow ranger; he would serve as a ranger every summer save one for the next eleven years. As part of their “duties,” the pair made numerous first ascents in the range, including of Teewinot, Mt. Owen, Nez Perce and Symmetry Spire. Fryxell’s encyclopedic knowledge of the range’s nooks and crannnies (he climbed every major peak and traversed every canyon) led to many of the names climbers now know by heart, including not only the peaks he and Smith first ascended, but also poetic beauties such as Cloudveil Dome, Eagles Rest and Lake of the Crags. A Guggenheim Fellow, intelligence officer in World War II, geologist for the National Park Service’s museum planning staff, college professor and prolific author, Fryxell’s work may still be seen on display in the Fryxell Geology Museum at Augustana College, where he taught. Reference; reference 2; reference 3; reference 4; reference 5; reference 6

Ca. 1929, Climbing Regulations Instituted in Grand Teton National Park. Climbing regulations, which were instituted in the Park as early as 1929, required climbers to register before and after climbs. Fryxell, who developed registration cards for documentation, used the resulting information to compile a yearly report of mountaineering activity. (The cards remained in use into the 1980s; thousands of them may still be found in Park archives.) The 1936 Park rules and regulations stated, “Climbing parties are required, under all circumstances, to report at either park headquarters or Jenny Lake Ranger Station before and after each expedition, whether guided or unguided.” A 1937 correspondence from The American Alpine Club to Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Thomas E. Whitcraft spearheaded the effort to establish standard distress signals nationally, and the National Park Service was invited to sit on the AAC’s Safety Committee, which was established to deal with the cause and prevention of mountaineering accidents. In ca. 1940, the Director of the National Park Service sent out a memo to all field offices regarding mountaineering in the national parks, citing established regulations and policies in place in three parks—Grand Teton, Mount Rainer, and Mount McKinley—that all the NPS units were to follow. These included the regulations requiring mountaineers to register for trips and sign in before and after each climb. Reference: Grand Teton NP: Rules and Regulations (1936); 1940 Memo NPS Director. GRTE archives 

1930, Lee Mangus Cabin, and Origins of the Jenny Lake Ranger Station. In 1930, the Lee Mangus cabin, built as a homestead cabin on the Lee Mangus Homestead near Cottonwood Creek, was obtained by the National Park Service and moved to its present site near Jenny Lake, where it served as the Jenny Lake Museum and Visitor Center for more than two decades. Originally staffed by Fryxell and Smith, the cabin played host to climbers, who, per Park regulations, had to sign in before and after their climbs. 

In the 1950s, under the supervision of Doug McLaren, an RKO movie-set building (likely from the 1952 Western The Big Sky, starring Kirk Douglas) was taken apart from the “RKO road” (along the west side of the Snake River, north of Dead Man’s Bar) and reassembled between the Jenny Lake Boulders and the current Jenny Lake Visitor Center. This became the first “official” ranger station, home to the mandatory registration process; a cache of rescue equipment was kept in the back. 

In 1992, a major Jenny Lake renovation project moved the RKO building to the Lupine Meadows housing area, where it became the rescue cache. The Mangus cabin then became the Jenny Lake Ranger Station, providing a ninety-year thread of continuity for both the rangers and climbers who continue to use it to this day. Reference; reference 2; reference 3.

July 6, 1934, First Climbing Accident Since the Establishment of Grand Teton National Park. Fred Ohlendorf and Helmuth Leese, both recent German emigres with virtually no climbing experience, embarked on an ambitious attempt of the Grand’s East Ridge. The next day, rangers at the Jenny Lake Visitor Center were notified of their absence when a friend reported them missing. Without registering, as required, with park officials, and with no route information, extra clothing, rope or ice axes, they had set out in leather-soled shoes (Leese) and leather-soled boots (Ohlendorf) with a few sandwiches for a one-day ascent. A rescue party led by Fritiof Fryxell found Leese’s body high on the Teepe Glacier on July 8. Two days later, Ohlendorf’s body was found on the opposite side of the East Ridge on the Teton Glacier. Fryxell posited that they had fallen—one to the south, the other to the north—while attempting to navigate the route’s first gendarme. The fatalities marked the first since the establishment of the park. Reference

1947, First Rescue Training Conducted. John Montagne, a seasonal ranger in Grand Teton National Park, organized a rescue training at Jenny Lake—the first such training about which records exist. Before the establishment, the next year, of a rescue team, rangers often responded to search and rescue calls with the assistance of Teton climbing guides—an informal collaboration that continues to this day. Reference; reference 2; reference 3

1948, First “Climbing Ranger” Hired. Richard Emerson learned to climb in the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division. Exceptionally talented, he was the first ranger hired in Grand Teton National Park—or any national park, for that matter—specifically for his climbing expertise. A member of Himalayan expeditions to Masterbrum as well as the fabled 1963 American Mt. Everest Expedition, Emerson put up many significant first ascents in the Tetons, including Mt. Moran’s Direct South Buttress (1953), the Direct Northwest Face of Teewinot (1961), and Mt. Owen’s North Ridge (1951). In the mid-1950s, Emerson’s use of forest duff to dry his hands while climbing at the Jenny Lake Boulders inspired John Gill, the grandfather of American bouldering, to use the now-ubiquitous gymnastic chalk for the first time. Reference

1948, Grand Teton Rescue Team Established. Backcountry rangers Doug McLaren (a permanent NPS employee), Ernie Field, John Montagne and Emerson, all veterans of the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division, formed the Grand Teton Rescue Team (later to be renamed the Jenny Lake Rangers) at the Mangus log cabin station, teaching techniques that had been developed by the 10th Mountain Division in the 1940s and adapted for rescue by the National Park Service. Rangers could deny permission for a climb, but, epitomized by Emerson’s phrase, “Let the mountains teach them,” often persuaded aspirants to consider routes better suited to their abilities instead. Reference; reference 2

November 22, 1950, Mount Moran, First “Winter” Rescue Attempt. On November 21, a DC-3 airplane carrying 21 passengers, including seven children, crashed into the northeast ridge of Mt. Moran during a storm. The next morning, Park Ranger Blake VandeWater and Paul Petzoldt (accompanied, to where the technical climbing began, by Jim Huidekoper, Richard Lange, Bill Ashley, with support from Merle Sitt) began an ascent to investigate the wreckage in a blizzard. When VandeWater and Petzoldt reached the site, there were no survivors. Vandewater received the Department of the Interior’s Distinguished Service Award for the effort. Because he was not a federal employee, Petzold was eligible only for the DOI’s highest civilian recognition, the Conservation Service Award.  Reference; reference 2; reference 3; reference 4; reference 5; Petzoldt, Paul. Teton Tales, pp. 187-198. Ringholz, Raye. On Belay: The Life of Legendary Mountaineer Paul Petzoldt, pp. 166-68.

Ca. 1950, Jenny Lake Rescue Team Established. Doug McLaren started the “Jenny Lake Rescue Team” as a formal entity. The first known reference to the “Jenny Lake Rangers” found in internal Grand Teton National Park reports would occur some 16 years later, in the 1966 Annual Mountaineering Report prepared by the Subdistrict ranger at the time, Dunbar Susong. Reference; reference 2

August 16, 1952, Fall and Body Recovery. James B. Ayer and Robert Saltonstall ascended the saddle between Symmetry Spire and Ice Point from the east, then descended the western slopes. Ayer fell while negotiating a ledge on the descent, traveling some 200-300 feet before coming to a rest. Saltonstall, unable to reach him, attracted the attention of passers-by, who notified the rangers. Recovery of the body was made by 8 p.m. Six rangers — Doug McLaren, Richard Emerson, Robert Perkins, Walter Sticker, Robert Theodorson and James Valder — received the Department of the Interior’s Unit Award for Meritorious Service and the National Park Service’s Certificate of Honor Award for their effort. Reference; reference 2

From the Department of the Interior’s Citation, awarded on January 14, 1953, to team members Doug McLaren, Richard Emerson, Robert Perkins, Walter Sticker, Robert Theodorson and James Valder: Unit Award for Meritorious Service, Grand Teton National Park Mountain Rescue Team, for Courageous Rescue Efforts Involving Personal Risk. Responding to an emergency call to the scene of a mountain-climbing accident at dusk on August 16, 1952, the Grand Teton National Park rescue team found that James B. Ayer had fallen 250 feet to his death and that his companion, Robert Saltonstall, was stranded on a ledge 400 feet above. Night came before Mr. Saltonstall could be lowered by a series of rope belays to a point of safety, necessitating that operations during the last 150 feet of cliff be carried out in total darkness. The members of the rescue team accomplished the difficult rescue under conditions involving their personal safety. By their devotion to duty, perfect teamwork, and heroism in performing this extremely hazardous undertaking, the members of the Grand Teton National Park mountain rescue team have earned the Department’s Unit Award for Meritorious Service.—Secretary of the Interior Oscar Chapman

July 14, 1953, Grand Teton, Knot Failure, Broken Back and Rescue. On July 14, 1953, Norma Hart and Roger G. Smith were descending the Grand Teton via the Owen Spaulding Route when a knot failed during a rappel. Hart, who fell 35 feet to the Upper Saddle, suffered severe bruises and an impacted fracture of a lumbar vertebra. Rangers and volunteers extricated her. Nine men from the Grand Teton Mountain Rescue Team received the Department of Interior’s Award for Meritorious Service for the 20-hour rescue. Reference; Reference 2

From the Department of the Interior’s Citation, issued on May 17, 1954: Department of the Interior Unit Citation for Meritorious Service, Grand Teton National Park Mountain Rescue Team, for Courageous Efforts in Rescuing a Victim of a Mountain Climbing Accident. On July 16, 1953, in response to an emergency call, the Grand Teton National Park mountain rescue team climbed all night to reach Miss Norma J. Hart of Lynn Massachusetts, would had fallen 35 feet while executing a rappel at the Upper Saddle of the Grand Teton, and had suffered serious injuries. She was strapped in a basket stretcher for evacuation, and the return trip was over precipitous and rough terrain which necessitated extreme caution in handling Miss Hart so as not to extend her injuries which were believed to include a broken back. It was later found that she had fractured her first lumbar and sixth thoracic vertebrae, had received multiple lacerations, and was injured internally. The 7-hour descent over steep slopes and snow fields was both laborious and dangerous. Members of the rescue team accomplishe this difficult rescue without regard to personal risk. Their self-effacing devotion in duty, perfect teamwork, willingness to hazard life and limb and to tax their endurance beyond their moral capacities reflect great credit upon the team members. In appreciation of their courageous performance, the Department of the Interior presents to the Grand Teton National Park mountain rescue team this unit award for meritorious service.—Secretary Douglas McKay

Award presented to team members F. Douglas McLaren, Merle E. Stitt, Richard E. Emerson, Martin N. Benham, Richard J Shaw, Ernest J. Borgman, G. Bryan Harry, Robert N. Perkins, Jr., and Hadley B. Roberts (notes Jenny Lake Rangers Chief Ranger Scott Guenther,  “There are ten men listed in the report as having been directly involved in the recovery but Peter F Cristo is not listed on the award photo that I sent to you separately. I’m guessing he didn’t make the cut for the award.”) 

June 26, 1955, Grand Teton, Rescue and Meritorious Service Award. On June 26, 1955, in response to an emergency call, the Grand Teton National Park Mountain Rescue Team climbed throughout the night to reach the scene of a mountain climbing accident near the summit of the Grand Teton where Fred B. Ford, Jr., of Hamilton, Massachusetts, had been severely injured by falling rock and ice, and his companion, Robert Bartholemew of Beloit, Wisconsin, was marooned. Encountering extremely severe weather at dawn, the team continued to climb over the ice-coated cliffs, through blinding snow, and in 60-mile-an-hoiur winds to the scene of the accident which occurred at one of the most inaccessible sections of the peak. They rescued Bartholemew, who was in a state of exhaustion and shock after having been stranded for 20 hours without shelter, but before they could rescue Ford, he had in some manner loosened the restraining ropes and fallen over 1,000 feet to his death. The team made its way down the icy cliffs through the intensified blizzard and safely reached the foot of the trail with Bartholemew. That the team was able to reach the scene of the accident and rescue Bartholomew under severe weather conditions was miraculous and reflected incredible fortitude and stamina on the part of each member of the team. In recognition of courageous action, on January 11, 1956, the Department of the Interior granted to the Grand Teton National Park Service Mountain Rescue Team its Unit Award for Meritorious Service.—Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay

Award given to F Douglas McLaren, Richard Emerson, John C. Fonda, Donald M. Decker, Gene J Balaz, Bruce A. Adams, Martin N. Benham, H. Robert Krear 

1958, First Rescue Manual Published. Doug McLaren writes the first rescue manual in the US, Mountain Search and Rescue Operations: A Handbook for Protection Personnel. Published by the Grand Teton Natural History Association in 1958, it sold for $1.15. Reference

March 9, 1960, First Deaths of Park Rangers. Assistant Chief Ranger Stan Spurgeon, seasonal park ranger John Fonda (who served as a member of the Grand Teton Mountain Rescue group for eight years) and District Ranger Gale Wilcox were on backcountry patrol on cross-country skis in the northern part of Grand Teton National Park when they arrived at the frozen Snake River Channel west of Lizard Point. After scouting for a safe place to cross, Spurgeon went first, followed by Wilcox and Fonda.

Twelve to fifteen feet from shore, Fonda broke through the ice. Wilcox, who could not swim, belly-crawled to his position to try to reach him with a ski pole. Spurgeon followed, holding onto one of Wilcox’s skis in support. Fonda grasped Wilcox’s ski pole only to have the edge of the ice continue to break as he attempted to crawl onto it. As he moved forward, Spurgeon and Wilcox crawled backward. Spurgeon managed to take off one of his skis and extend it to Fonda, who grabbed it—only to have the ice crack below him, plunging Spurgeon and Wilcox into the water as well. 

Spurgeon was able to remove his other ski, but, though he was able to throw the trip on Wilcox’s skis, couldn’t remove them, as they were still fastened to his boots by safety straps. In increasing desperation he managed to extricate himself, retrieve his ski pole from the riverbank, extend it to Wilcox and drag him onto the ice, breaking the ski strap that held his remaining ski to his boot in the process. Fonda, who was still treading water with his skis on, eventually went under and did not resurface.

Wilcox, suffering from severe hypothermia, was unable to move or speak. Spurgeon, who was also suffering from hypothermia, set out through deep snow for the nearest ranger station for a sleeping bag for Wilcox. After intense effort, he reached the cabin and managed to rescusitate himself with a fire, dry clothes and two or three cups of coffee, then fashioned makeshift snowshoes from two external frame backpacks for the return trip through increasinly inclement weather only to find that Wilcox had passed away from exposure. He returned to the cabin, and managed to make contact with Dean Driskell, who was ice fishing at Lizard Point, the next morning. The bodies of Fonda and Wilcox were removed via snowplane by 5 p.m.

Wilcox was posthumously awarded a Citation of Valor from the Department of the Interior and the Bronze Medal from the Carnegie Hero Commission for his efforts to save Fonda. Spurgeon was also awarded the Citation of Valor. Reference; reference 2; reference 3; reference 4

1960, First Use of Helicopter in Rescues, and Death of a Jenny Lake Ranger. On June 25, Chief Ranger Russell Dickenson (who would later serve as Director of the National Park Service from 1980-1985) called Chrysler-Avery Helicopter Service in Greybull, Wyoming, to extricate Dr. Philip O. Nice, who had suffered an attack of extreme chest pain (later diagnosed as ulcers) while climbing the Grand with partners, from the Black Dyke area of the Lower Saddle. Though a rescue team was already en route, the report in the 1961 Accidents in North American Mountaineering noted, “By using the helicopter, the evacuation was shortened by better than 12 hours of back-breaking work, and at only a slightly greater cost.” Some six weeks later, on August 4, climbing ranger Tim Bond took what would become a fatal leader fall while climbing the East Ridge of Nez Perce. “A helicopter landing at the base of the North Face of Shadow Peak completed the evacuation [of the body] with considerable reduction in risk to rescuers,” noted the report in the same journal. Five days after that, on August 9, Jesse Sargent fell and broke her ankle in what is now known as “Sargent’s Chimney” while descending the Owen-Spalding Route from the summit of the Grand as part of a nine-person guided party. After a bivouac, Sargent was brought by rangers to the Lower Saddle, where a helicopter took over and completed the mission. The rangers received the Department of the Interior’s Valor Award for the rescue. Reference 1; reference 2; reference 3

July 26-29, 1962, Grand Teton, “Night of the One-Eyed Devil.” On July 26 at 4 a.m., ten Appalachian Mountain Club climbers, ages 18 to 65, began their attempt of the Grand’s Petzoldt-Lummis route. Disoriented, they began up a couloir on the east face, only to become benighted without food or shelter. The next day, with their last reserves of energy and while rescuers tried to reach them from below, three of the group decided to go up instead of down. After another open bivouac, one member of the higher party, Stephen Smith, died. When rangers reached the lower group, a member who had gone mad in the darkness tried to kill his would-be rescuers, who had to continually knock him unconscious in order to proceed. The rescue, when completed, stood as the most technically difficult large-scale mountain rescue in American history to date. Smith’s body was left in Otterbody snow field on Grand’s east face—one of the few left behind in the Teton Range. Reference; reference 2

August 22-24, 1967, Grand Teton, North Face, Most Significant Rescue To Date. When Lorraine Hough and Gaylord Campbell embarked on their attempt of the Grand’s North Face, fewer than 100 people had climbed the route—a fact that had been discussed with trepidation by the rangers, who feared having to mount a rescue on its foreboding, enormous walls. On August 21, above the Second Ledge, Campbell, on lead, was roughly 20 feet above Hough when he was struck by rockfall. The rockfall knocked him off the wall back onto the ledge with a broken leg where Hough was belaying. Their cries for help were heard by a party on Mt. Owen, who reported them to rangers at 1 a.m.. Climbing Ranger Ralph Tingey was able to locate their headlamps on the face that night, then spot them with a telescope the next day. 

Fortunately for Campbell, the one person on the planet who knew the north face better than anyone else—Leigh Ortenberger—happened to be on the summit of the Grand at 11 a.m. along with climbing ranger Bob Irvine when they heard the calls for help. Ortenberger and Irvine descended off the summit to the north to a spot from which they could see the climbers. By 4 p.m., Ortenberger and Irvine, together with rangers Rick Reese, Ted Wilson, and Pete Sinclair, had reached the scene of the incident. Determining it was too difficult to transport Campbell around the mountain to the Upper Saddle, the team decided to lower him 2,000 feet from the Second Ledge to the Teton Glacier. It was a process that would take two days. 

Team members worked nearly through the night, shuttling equipment and supplies onto the massive face, setting up the systems for the lowering process and shepherding Hough back to the Lower Saddle while Wilson, Irvine and Ortenberger remained with Campbell, who was provided a sleeping bag. The rescuers slept in bivouac sacks.

Rangers Tingey and Mike Ermarth joined the rescue the next morning, Aug. 23. In the early hours, as part of a recon of the face, Ranger Doug McLaren tossed a package containing morphine out the door of the helicopter; it landed neatly in Ortenburger’s lap while he was still in his sack.

During the descent, the team hand-drilled anchors for the winch, through which 300-foot lengths of 1/4 inch steel cable were passed for each stretch of the lowering. The rangers had trained on this system before, but had never used cable. Rockfall hampered their efforts, as did the search for adequate anchor spots. They worked until nearly 11 p.m. on the 23rd, securing Campbell’s litter before retiring to their own bivy sites on the wall.

The next day, fatigue factored into the lowering process, and it wasn’t until 4:20 p.m. that they were able to get Campbell to the helicopter, which had landed near the top of the Teton Glacier in a landing zone prepared by four other members of the operation. Campbell, who believed the rescuers could have carried him backpack style and been off the face in a day, was critical of the team during and after the operation, citing, among other things, “bad leadership.” No thanks for the effort to save him were ever forthcoming.

Rangers Tingey, Reese, Irvine, Wilson, Sinclair and Ermarth earned the Valor Award from the Department of the Interior for the rescue. Because he wasn’t a federal employee, Ortenberger did not.

In 2014, Jenny Wilson, daughter of ranger Ted Wilson, completed her documentary of the incident, The Grand Rescue—the most significant rescue in the Tetons to date. Reference

December 8, 1969, Meritorious Service Award. To earn the Meritorious Service Award, an employee must have established a record of significant performance of official duties. The National Park Service bestowed the award upon Doug McLaren, who had previously received five Unit Awards for Excellence of Service, for contributions to mountain rescue. Reference; Reference 2

January 16, 1974, First Fatal Winter Mountaineering Accident and First Winter Rescue in Grand Teton National Park. On January 12, a 15-member National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Teton Winter Mountaineering Expedition set out for a two-week trip into Grand Teton National Park in the midst of a winter storm. Over the course of three days, during which the storm continued with heavy snow and winds up to 75 miles per hour, the team ascended via a series of camps until they reached Amphitheater Lake, where they camped for another day while waiting for the storm to pass.

January 16 dawned clear with warming temperatures. After two team members accompanied a student with an infection back to the valley, the remaining twelve traversed the summer trail below Disappointment Peak into Glacier Gulch.

Seven members of the team were varying distances up the southeastern flank of the Teton Glacier moraine when the leader, a seasoned mountaineer known and respected by Jenny Lake Rangers, kicked off a wind slab that swept the group down the morainal flanks. Witnessing the event, the remaining five quickly responded, saving two buried victims, but despite nearly an hour and a half of CPR were unable to resuscitate three others: David Silha, Michael Moseley and Bart Brodisky.

When efforts were exhausted, two team members skied out, reporting the incident to park rangers at just past 10 p.m. The rest of the team brought the bodies down to Delta Lake, where a helicopter evacuated them the next afternoon. Paul Petzoldt, NOLS’ founder, was on hand to greet the remaining team members when they skied out on January 18.

Asked about the hazards of the mountains in winter, Petzoldt replied, “Our training is all oriented to make living and traveling in the mountains as safe as possible. However, we deal in real mountains and there’s no make believe about it. If there isn’t some element of danger there isn’t adventure.”

The incident would lead Grand Teton National Park to add climbing rangers Bill Conrod—who, in 1966, had been part of the first winter ascent of Mt. Moran—and Jim Olson to winter staff. Remembers Olson, “We were hanging around volunteering when they had the accident. I forget what kind of status we had. We were living in park housing. The incident bridging the park from the old, ‘Don’t go into the park in the winter,’ to, ‘There’s going to be activity.’ It was hard to get money approved, but they did the best they could with what they had. The accident created a pressing case.” Their hires marked the first time rangers were employed during the winter season. Reference; reference 2

1975, First Emergency Medical Technical Training Course Offered. When Bob Irvine began working as a park ranger in 1963, medical preparation was limited to Oral Demerol, which the rangers carried as a painkiller, and the presence of an American Red Cross first aid training book. “We didn’t even have a blood pressure cuff,” he remembers. In 1975, Ralph Tingey took the first emergency medical technical training course the agency offered—the start of formal medical training for the rangers. Reference

1970s/Early 1980s, First Female Climbing Rangers. In the mid- to late 1970s, there were distinctions among the Jenny Lake Rangers between climbing and backcountry rangers. They all climbed, participated in rescues, participated in the same trainings, went to the Law Enforcement and medical refreshers, and were on-call 24/7. 

Jane Baldwin and Patty McDonald were the first two female Jenny Lake Rangers. Both worked as backcountry rangers from 1974-76, Baldwin in Garnet Canyon and McDonald in Paintbrush Canyon.

Anne-Marie Rizzi was the first Jenny Lake climbing ranger, spending the  summer at Jenny Lake in 1977. She was followed by Jean Dempsey (nee Ruwitch), who spent the summers of 1978 and 1979 as a climbing ranger with the Jenny Lake Ranger staff. “The first summer was like getting paid to play, “except for the 40 hours of law enforcement training,” she remembers. With weight to fuel ratio critical in helicopters, and being the lightest person of the crew, she was the first to arrive at the scene of the accident. During her time as a ranger, she climbed the Snaz in Death Canyon and South Buttress Right on Mount Moran with her fellow rangers. She also participated in the first all-female free ascent of the Naked Edge in Eldorado Springs in 1978, and Ruwitch and Louise Shepherd and made the first female free ascent of the Grand Traverse or Casual Route on the Diamond of Longs Peak in 1980.

Barb Eastman and Anne Macquarie were also among Grand Teton National Park’s first female Jenny Lake Rangers, gaining positions with the group in 1980. Macquarie worked as a ranger from 1980-83. The pair did the first all-female ascent of Mount Moran’s Direct South Buttress, and in August 1980 Barb became the first woman in Grand Teton National Park history to receive Valor Award for the rescue of Jim Detterline and Paul Bolick on the North Face of the Grand Teton. Reference 

1980 Climbing Rangers at Jenny Lake.  Front row: Craig Patterson, Ralph Tingey (Jenny Lake sub-district ranger, standing), Steve Rickert, Gary Thorson; second row: Barb Eastman, Anne Macquarie, John Carr, Tom Milligan (South District Ranger), Peter Hollis, Bob Irvine, office assistant Karen Noar, Tim Hogan, Renny Jackson; Top Row (on the building), Leo Larson, Tom Kimbrough, Mike Beiser (kneeling), Chuck Harris. Photo: Angus Theurmer, Jr.

1981, Jenny Lake Rescue Team Receives Department of Interior Award. On March 6, 1981, Secretary of the Interior James Watt bestowed upon the Jenny Lake Rescue Team the Department of Interior’s Unit Award for Excellence of Service in recognition of extraordinary performance involving highly technical and complex rescue missions. The Award, which named twenty people—Ralph Tingey, Craig Patterson, Robert Irvine, Michael Beiser, John Carr, John Connors, James Dorward, Charles Harris, Tim Hogan, Peter Hollis, Reynold Jackson, Thomas Kimbrough, Leo Larson, Ann Macquarie, John Owen, Gary Thorson, Barbara Eastman, Randy Harrington, Karen Noar, Steve Rickert— came with the following citation: ”During the summer season of 1980, the Jenny Lake Rescue Team demonstrated exceptional performance which involved more than 30 different, highly technical and complex rescue missions. While individual members of the team have performed significant acts of heroism and bravery, the manner in which the team has functioned as a unit is most notable. Esprit de corps and dedication to duty have pervaded the entire organization and have been responsible for the successful accomplishment of the unit’s mission. The group has performed far above what can be expected of such a tem. All of the rescues performed were resolved with great speed, a high degree of technical proficiency and, most importantly, extreme safety. The efforts of this group resulted in the saving of life or limb of many victims of mountaineering accidents. The team is commended for its superior level of technical climbing skill, extraordinary proficiency in the provision of emergency medical care, and superb enthusiasm and dedication in the face of grave and often demoralizing circumstances. For the exceptional manner in which the team accomplshed the reescue mission during the 1980 season, the Jenny Lake Rescue Team is granted the Unit Award for Excellence of Service of the Department of the Interior.” Reference

August 26-28, 1980, Grand Teton, North Face, Rescue, and First Woman in Grand Teton National Park History to Receive Valor Award. Jim Detterline and Paul Bolick started up the North Face route on August 24 only to be trapped by a winter storm on the Second Ledge the next day. On August 26, a helicopter identified their position as part of a fly-by, then returned to deposit two teams of climbing rangers on the top of the Underhill Ridge on the south side of the mountain. From there, Rangers Bob Irvine, Renny Jackson, Tim Hogan, Peter Hollis, Leo Larson and Barb Eastman traversed the east face to the prominent boulder, visible from the valley, on the east ridge, where the team bivouacked. High winds precluded further helicopter assistance.

(Ranger Mike Beiser remembers that the third team of rangers, which included John Carr and himself, flying into deteriorating weather, “almost became the first helicopter crash victims in park history. We dropped hundreds of feet in a “power settle” over, then next to, the Underhill Ridge,” free falling before the helicopter picked up enough air speed to fly the ship away from the ridge/ground. “A thousand feet later the pilot was mystified the rotors had not sheared as he tried to recover. My life flashed before my eyes.”)

The next day, the team lowered Jackson some 500 feet to the stranded climbers. Jackson secured them to a haul line and a belay rope, and the rangers above winched them up to the awaiting team on the east face. The climbers, accompanied by the rangers, then made their way across the east face, down the Underhill Ridge and across the Black Dyke to the Lower Saddle, where extrication was made by helicopter the next day. 

The rangers received the Department of the Interior’s Valor Award for the rescue. Eastman was the first woman in Grand Teton National Park to receive it. Detterline would go on to become a Jenny Lake climbing ranger himself. As a ranger with Rocky Mountain National Park, he climbed Longs Peak more than 400 times. In 1995, he received the Valor Award for his assistance in the Thompson River Flood in Estes Park. Reference

September 7, 1981, First “Live Human Sling-Load” Operation Conducted in Grand Teton National Park. Late in the afternoon, Joe Bailey and five partners summited Nez Perce, then began their descent. Bailey’s partners downclimbed. Despite their encouragement to follow, Bailey slung a large boulder lying on a ledge at 11,500 feet to rappel. When he weighted the rope, the boulder, and his anchor, failed.

After falling some 100 feet, Bailey hit a large ledge, then ricocheted another 50 feet to the ledge’s edge. His partners quickly came to his assistance, but his condition was critical, with traumatic injuries to his head, left femur and right elbow.

Four partners remained at Bailey’s side while one, Bill Rosqvist, went for help, navigating the notoriously broken terrain of the north side of the mountain before continuing down Garnet Canyon to Lupine Meadows, some four miles away.

Rosqvist reached the cabin of Ranger Bob Irvine, where rangers Peter Hollis, Chuck Harris and Craig Patterson were also present, at 7:10 p.m. Patterson, the coordinator, began preparations immediately, instructing Harris to assemble and prepare a rescue team for an overnight deployment.

An hour later, in the last of the day’s light, Harris and Ranger Anne Macquarie arrived in the South Fork of Garnet Canyon via a contracted helicopter with emergency medical supplies. Nightfall ensured there would be no additional helicopter flights until morning.

Harris and McQuarie reached Bailey by 10 or 11:00 p.m. Consulting via radio-phone with Emergency Room Doctor Kendrick (first name unknown) at St. John’s hospital in Jackson, they came to the conclusion that lowering Bailey might kill him.

Throughout the night, communicating with St. John’s personnel, Harris and McQuarie used heat packs, intravenous therapy and specialized drugs—Decadron and mannitol for traumatic brain injury, lactated Ringer’s solution for shock and “probably some morphine” for pain—to keep Bailey alive.

Meanwhile, Patterson remained busy, requesting a Forest Service helicopter and a Chinook helicopter from Scott Air Force Base.

Sling loading is an operational technique in which a cargo hook is suspended below a helicopter, allowing the transport of external loads during flight. The cargo hook under the helicopter is both electronically and manually controlled; the load can be dropped via a mechanical release within the pilot’s reach.

The pilot can also release the hook using a button on his cyclic control (the mechanism that controls the main rotor system). Because it’s possible to hit the button by mistake, the system is susceptible to unplanned releases.

As well, the load can be released inadvertently due to electric malfunction—the reasons sling loading had not been approved for human cargo. Rangers had seen loads dropped because of malfunction.

Having climbed through the night, more rangers arrived at the site of the accident with additional medical supplies and a Thompson litter. The Forest Service helicopter, a Jet Ranger piloted by Phil Fillingham, arrived at dawn.

Given the circumstances, South District Ranger Walt Dabney approved a live sling operation if, in Fillingham’s opinion, it could be “reasonably” executed.

Fillingham completed his reconnaissance. The weather was good. He reported he could execute the operation.

The rangers arranged Bailey in the orange Thompson sled by 8:30 a.m.

“We didn’t know if he was going to be upside down or backwards, so we kind of spider-webbed him in there,” recalls Harris.

Ranger Randy Harrington, the tallest in the group, stood on “the tallest rock we could find” and held up the forged steel ring and swivel unit that he would need to connect to the cargo hook. That unit in turn was connected to a cable that ran to a large hook that was clipped to Bailey’s litter.

The rangers could not control for inadvertent release. They could, however, do their best to make sure the spring-loaded gate of the hook clipped to Bailey’s litter didn’t open in flight, which they did by taping it shut with light adhesive tape. (The tape is visible in one of the photos of this post.)

With the helicopter hovering above, Harrington connected the ring to the cargo hook, and Fillingham lifted Bailey off the mountain.

“It was probably one of the wildest rides in the Tetons to that point,” says Harris, “but Bailey was unconscious so he couldn’t enjoy it.”

Fillingham flew Bailey to Lupine Meadows, where he was then evacuated via another helicopter to St. John’s.

Although the techniques used to save Bailey were technically against the “rules,” the rescue undoubtedly saved his life—and pointed the Park in the direction of the formal helicopter short-haul program that began five years later. Reference; reference 2

1985 and 1986, Formal Helicopter Rappel Training and Short-Haul Technique Introduced. When Ranger Peter Armington was transferred to the Tetons from Yosemite National Park in 1984, he brought with him what would become two important advancements to the rescue program, one of which continues to this day. The first, Helicopter Rappel (which permitted rangers to insert into an accident site from a helicopter), was an existing practice in the wildland fire-fighting system. “It was Armington’s way to get it through the system,” says Renny Jackson, “and he wanted to use it for mountain rescue.”

Under Armington’s direction, in September 1985, 15 rangers began Helicopter Rappel training in concert with rangers from nearby Yellowstone National Park as a means by which rescuers and initial attack firefighters could be deployed directly to an accident scene or a wildland fire. Each ranger was required to execute a number of practice rappels per season.

Helicopter Rappel required the pilot to remain in a hover for an extended period of time to allow for ropes to be deployed and rangers to execute rappels that were a maximum of 60 meters in length. The extended hover time placed a high demand on the pilot, as did the difficulties of dealing with erratic winds in the mountain environment and the potential for ropes to get tangled in alpine terrain.

By 1990 or 1991—“once we saw how absurd it was to rappel out of a perfectly good helicopter,” says Jackson—Helicopter Rappel training was removed from the program. It was a collective decision: “Rappelling is a bad idea when talking about mountains and helicopters.”

Short-haul training—which allowed a patient to be extracted directly from an accident scene—began in 1986. During the spring or early summer training session (recollections among the rangers differ), rangers began receiving empty litters that were flown in at the end of a rope, and then “packaging” a patient at the scene. The helicopter then returned to extract the litter with the patient safely bundled inside.

The first training session was held by the Gros Ventre River near the eastern boundary of the Park; training at this location (and many others) continues to this day.

With the Helicopter Rappel portion of the program gone, Short-Haul became the preferred method, both to deliver rangers directly to an accident site and then to extract patients. (“It was a really fun way to fly,” remembers Ralph H Tingey.) It has revolutionized rangers’ abilities to conduct rescues in complex and otherwise inaccessible terrain, and remains a staple of mountain rescue today—the single most important evolution in Teton mountain rescue history. Reference

September 10-12, 1985, Grand Teton, Rescue, and Citation of Valor Award. Two separate parties—Greg Findley, Nils Green and John Atthowe, and Paul Johnson and Ken Webb—started up the Grand’s Exum Ridge route, converging at the Friction Pitch as a winter storm that would persist for two days descended. They made it off the top of the mountain that night and endured an open bivouac above the Upper Saddle. The next morning, disoriented, they descended the Wall Street Couloir. Rangers Renny Jackson and Jim Woodmency, supported by Leo Larson and Randy Harrington, climbed into the storm to meet them at 10 p.m. By 3 a.m., they had reached and stabilized Findley and Johnson. Green and Webb had perished. Jackson, Larson, Woodmencey, and Harrington received the Department of the Interior’s Valor Award for their efforts. Reference; reference 2

Notes the Department of the Interior’s Citation for Valor signed by Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel, Citation for valor Jenny Lake rescue team in recognition of courageous action resulting in the rescue of climbers from Grand Teton National Park on September 13, 1985. The powerful storm on Grand Teton caused the deaths of three climbers, but two other mountaineers survived after being rescued by Grand Teton National Park Rangers. Two separate climbing parties, a party of three and a party of two, were ascending the Exum Ridge route of the 13, 770 foot mountain when rapidly deteriorating weather overtook them. Caught above the Friction Pitch section of the ridge, the two parties united in an effort to escape the storm. The five climbers were unable to find their way off the mountain, the effects of frostbite and hypothermia rapidly taking their toll. Meanwhile, Rangers at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station were becoming increasingly concerned that a climbing party was overdue returning according to its climbing permit. Rangers Jackson and Woodmencey, the first of two teams sent to search for the party, faced a 7-mile track, breaking trail through drifts of new snow 2 to 3 feet deep. An attempt to use a helicopter in the search proved futile; the 60 mph winds prevented the helicopter, under full power, from moving forward. Making camp at the Lower Saddle on the mountain, these two climbed higher hoping to find the missing climbers, searching until darkness forced them to retreat. Rangers Jackson and Woodmencey were joined later by Rangers Larson and Harrington who were to assist in the search. All four faced extremely poor conditions with wind gusts to 90 mph, blowing snow, poor visibility and single-digit temperatures. Despite these conditions, the four climbed technical rock terrain which was made even more difficult and hazardous by the snow, ice and verglass covering the rock. A faint glow of a single headlamp noticed by Ranger Woodmancey eventually led to the successful rescue of two of the five lost climbers. Facing extreme weather conditions and carrying enormous loads of rescue gear, all four Rangers proceeded with a delicate and dangerous climb up toward where the light was spotted. The rescue team spent the rest of the night trying to feed and rewarm the two seriously hypothermic and incoherent climbers. At first light, the team began the long slow evacuation of these two to the Lower Saddle where they were flown by helicopter to a hospital in Jackson, Wyoming. For their courageous actions and the great personal risks they took, Randy R. Harrington, Leo L. Larson, James T. Woodmencey and Reynold G. Jackson of the Jenny Lake Rescue Team are granted the Valor Award of the Department of the Interior. 

July 14, 1986, Mt. Moran, First (Legal) Short-Haul Rescue. In the summer of 1986, Nicole Rotberg and Abigail Mackey fell several hundred feet down Mt. Moran’s Skillet Glacier. Mackey perished in the bergschrund, but Rotberg was successfully extracted via short-haul late in the day–later than the rangers were supposed to fly (Armington arranged cars in the Moran Scenic Turnout landing zone so that their headlamps could illuminate the landing area). Her core body temperature at the time of the rescue was 81 degrees, making her the coldest patient ever revived at St. John’s Hospital. The rescue marked the first official use of the short-haul technique; it was also the first time the technique definitively saved a life. Rangers Renny Jackson, Steve Rickert and Dan Burgette received Exemplary Act Awards for their service. Reference; reference 2; reference 3

June 28, 1987, Buck Mountain, Fatality, and Historic Court Case. After receiving, from  David Wechner, a brief tutorial on self-arrest, Ben Johnson, together with Daniel Feikin and Rob Macal, ascended Buck Mountain via the east ridge, climbing separately without ropes and reaching the summit between 9:00 and 10:30 a.m. The two more experienced climbers, Wechner and Macal, began their descent around 11:00 a.m., arriving back at Timberline Lake at ca. 12 p.m. Johnson, who was not wearing a helmet, and Feikin began their descent a short time later, but, disoriented, climbed down the south side of the mountain rather than the standard descent, a meandering “goat path” on the east face. Recognizing that he was on dangerous ground without the necessary experience and equipment to descend safely, Feikin stopped on a small ledge on the south ridge, but Johnson continued his descent, encountering snow at ca. 3:15 p.m. Unable to self-arrest, he slid some 30 meters into a band of broken rock, sustaining severe lacerations of the head and back. After some time, he continued, encountering another snow slope. His slide down this ended in a meltwater pool some 300 meters above Timberline Lake. Though he was able to crawl out of that pool, he fell into another, from which he was unable to extricate. 

After receiving notification from Wechner at 11:15 p.m., rangers reached Feikin at 2:30 a.m. the next morning and helped him down to Timberline Lake. Johnson was located by helicopter at 6:36 a.m. It was determined that he had died from hypothermia at approximately 10:30 the previous night. Reference

1988, David Sowles Award Bestowed Upon Jenny Lake Rangers. The American Alpine Club’s David A. Sowles Memorial Award is conferred upon individual mountaineers who have distinguished themselves, with unselfish devotion at personal risk or at sacrifice of a major objectives, in going to the assistance of fellow climbers imperiled in the mountains. On December 3, 1988, in Atlanta, Georgia, at the 86th Annual Meeting of the American Alpine Club, it was bestowed on The Jenny Lake Rangers, “an organized group, which, over many years, has set a splendid example of dedication to mountain rescue” for “many years of service to the mountaineering community.” Reference; reference 2; reference 3

1991, Historic Court Case Adjudicated. On Nov. 13, 1991, in the case Johnson v. United States Department of Interior, the plaintiffs, Johnson’s parents, alleged that their son would not have died but for the Park Service’s negligent failure to (1) adequately regulate recreational climbing activity in Grand Teton National Park; (2) initiate a rescue effort after Macal’s initial report; and (3) conduct a reasonable rescue effort after Macal’s second report. In a landmark case for Search and Rescue groups throughout the US, the US Tenth Circuit wrote a Summary Judgement for the case, finding the government not negligent, upholding the decision by the lower District Court, and denying the appeal by the plaintiff. This Summary Judgement contains language favoring all rescue organizations in the US and, in particular, the National Park Service. In 1994, following the 1991 lawsuit, GTNP eliminated its climbing registration sign-in system. Reference; reference 2; reference

June 26, 1992, Guides’ Wall, Accident, Rescue and Valor Award. While leading the Flake Pitch of Guides’ Wall, Roland Fleck, MD, back-cleaned two pieces of gear, then weighted an in-situ piton. The piton pulled, sending him 40 to 50 feet to the ledge below, where he sustained multiple injuries. Ranger Jim Dorward, who was patrolling in Cascade Canyon when the call came in, ran to the base of the route and soloed 1,000 feet to the scene of the accident. At the rescue cache in Lupine Meadows, rangers and helicopter pilot Willard Eldredge contemplated pouring rain and winds that were not conducive to flying. Despite the inclement conditions, Eldredge managed to position his helicopter for the short-haul extrication an hour after the call had been received. Fleck was whisked from the side of the mountain in what rangers deemed his “golden hour”—i.e., as the window of opportunity to save him was closing. Noted the report in Accidents in North American Mountaineering, “The speed with which Ranger Jim Dorward climbed safely to the scene, the flying skills and bravery of pilot Will Eldredge and the spotting ability of Ranger Steve Rickert all combined into an effort that was nothing short of heroic. That this was done during very adverse weather conditions is nothing less than astonishing. The application of the short-haul technique has most certainly revolutionized mountain rescue in Grand Teton.” Dorward and Rickert received the Valor Award for their efforts. As a member of the general public, Eldredge received the Citizen’s Award for Bravery for flying the helicopter. Reference; reference 2

Early 1990s, Advent of Cell Phone-Reported Rescues. While records of the first instance of a cell phone being used to report an accident differ, an entry in the 1995 Accidents in North American Mountaineering (Stranded, Inadequate Knowledge of Route) indicates that the phenomenon arose in the early 1990s. The entry documents a 911 call received on June 21, 1994, by the Teton County Sheriff’s Communications Center and forwarded to Ranger Renny Jackson at his home. Late in the afternoon, three climbers on the Upper Exum Ridge, observing the advance of inclement weather, sought route information and the answer to a basic question: “Should we go up or down?” (Jackson provided his best advice; the climbers got off the mountain safely.) Notes the report: “During the past several years, numerous rescues in the Tetons have been initiated by valid reports via cellular phone. This was the first informational call. It should be noted that staff at the American Alpine Club Climber’s Ranch received a similar call this summer from a party requesting information on how best to negotiate the bergschrund at the base of the North Ridge on the Grand Teton.”

The first documented cell phone call of an accident occurred on August 18, 1994, on the Grand’s Exum Ridge. David Gallagher and Robyn Murdock, members of the same four-person party, suffered separate accidents when they became disoriented during a descent of the Exum Ridge. Murdock sustained serious injuries when the block the team had slung for a rappel failed. While the other two team members stayed with Murdock, Gallagher went for help—and, still disoriented, rappelled into the Great West Chimney on the mountain’s west face, became stuck, and spending the night at the end of his rope. Jenny Lake Rangers received a 911 call regarding cries for help coming from the west side of the Grand Teton the next day. Murdoch was shorthauled off the mountain while Gallagher was assisted down by rangers and mountain guides. In the margin of the rangers’ internal report is a note: “C phone.” Reference, Reference; reference 2

April 28, 1997, Jenny Lake Rescue Team Receives Citation Unit Award for Excellence of Service. In bestowing the award to the Jenny Lake Rescue Team “in recognition of extraordinary team performance in mountain search and rescue operations,” Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbit noted, “The Jenny Lake Rescue Team at Grand Teton National Park has long been recognized as one of the premier mountain rescue units in North America. In the past two years, this group of highly skilled rangers performed over 100 search and rescue missions, saving the lives of at least nine critically injured climbers who would have otherwise perished. Because of high altitude technical terrain and extreme environmental conditions, these missions are often accomplished at great personal risk to team members. While each rescue mission merits recognition, one of the most notable incidents occurred on August 22, 1995. After receiving a report of two critically injured climbers on the Grand Teton, rescue personnel responded to the scene utilizing advanced helicopter short haul techniques. Rangers were placed directly in the accident side, a small ledge at 13,000 feet elevation, where they stabilized both patients using advanced emergency medical skills. Using additional specialized helicopter rescue procedures, the team removed from the ledge each patient and flew them to a local hospital. The application of highly specialized procedures in an unforgiving environment, coordinated by a precise team effort, clearly saved the lives of these two mountaineers. For continued extraordinary team performance in mountain search and rescue operations, the Jenny Lake Rescue Team is granted the Unit Award for Excellence of Service of the Department of the Interior. The following team members received the award: Mark Magnuson; Robert Irvine; Leo Larson; Randy Benham; Andy Byerly; Scott Guenther; Bill Culbreath; Carrie Murphy; Erika Hutchings; Renny Jackson; Tom Kimbrough; George Montopoli; Jim Springer; Jim Woodmency; Bill Alexander; Robert Morris; Gary Wise; Cindy Holda; Rich Perch; Janette Wilts; Jim Phillips; Eric Gabriel; Ron Johnson; Helen Larson; Dave Bywater; Dan Burgette; and Chris Harder.

July 26, 2003, Grand Teton, Exum Ridge, First Lightning Strike Rescue. Thirteen climbers—mainly work friends from Idaho Falls, Idaho, along with various spouses, parents, and siblings—began up the Exum Ridge at 8 a.m. in four rope teams, the strongest climbers distributed among them. At 3:35 in the afternoon, lightning struck and killed Erica Summers, who was sitting at the top of the Friction Pitch next to her husband, Clinton Summers, who was seriously injured. The single lightning strike traveled down the ridge, blowing three climbers off the rock and leaving another dangling upside down in his harness. In all, seven members of the party were injured, five seriously.

The response to the incident would come to include two Type-3 interagency contract helicopters with two full helitack crews, one air ambulance, three ground ambulances, and almost all members of the Jenny Lake Sub-District staff. Rangers Jack McConnell and Jim Springer, who had been flown into the Lower Saddle, quickly climbed up to the accident scene. When the weather permitted, Rangers Dan Burgette, Chris Harder, Craig Holm, Leo Larson, George Montopoli, and Marty Vidak were then inserted by helicopter. The team worked diligently in steep technical terrain to evacuate all the seriously injured patients and the fatality before nightfall. In all, 13 people were extricated from the mountain in one of the most complex operations the Jenny Lake Rangers had ever attempted. In 2005, the rangers received the Valor Award for their service. Reference; reference 2; reference 3; reference 4

2009, First Spot Locator Response. The “call,” which is routed to the nearest 911 dispatch, came in to Fremont County. All that emergency workers received was a GPS location for an emergency on Grasshopper Glacier in the Wind River Range. Not knowing what to expect, they asked the Jenny Lake rangers to respond. When rangers arrived at Grasshopper Glacier, they found a boulder had rolled over a man’s ankle and sprained it. He was unable to hike what would have been more than a dozen miles out to the trailhead. Reference

July 21, 2010, Grand Teton, Largest Rescue in Grand Teton National Park History. A fast-moving lightning storm caught 17 climbers near the summit of the Grand Teton. The climbers, from three different parties, were attempting to summit the peak via two separate routes, the Owen-Spalding and Exum Ridge. All 17 were caught above 13,200 feet on exposed ridges and rocky cliffs. One, Brandon Oldenkamp, was blown off the mountain by lightning. Rangers rescued sixteen others within eight hours; all suffered from various degrees of burns and lightning injuries. Park rangers Ryan Schuster, Jack McConnell, Marty Vidak, Ed Visnovske, Nicholas Armitage, Drew Hardesty, and Helen Bowers were awarded the Department of the Interior Valor Award for their actions. St. John’s Medical Center Doctor AJ Wheeler, helicopter pilot Matt Heart of Helicopter Express, Teton Interagency Helitack member John Filardo, and Exum Mountain Guides Dan Corn, Anneka Door, and Brenton Reagan each received the Citizen’s Award for Bravery for their critical roles and assistance during the challenging rescue operation. Reference; reference 2; reference 3

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