Saturday, July 25, 2009



The Second Day - Lowering Down the Face

The North Face of the Grand Teton from Mount Teewinot

At first light the helicopter fired the engine and rose up the heavier cool air on the morning currents, floating near the face. Shellinger was at the controls, and Doug McClaren held a little cardboard box full of morphine and syringes. Doug, son of a park ranger from Rocky Mountain National Park, and veteran of the 10Th Mountain Division in WWII, was a real climber and the first climbing ranger in the Tetons. In 1952 he had transferred here and was the guy who started the Jenny Lake Rescue Team. He and his seasonal ranger, Dick Emerson, were the tough guys. Doug had written the mountain rescue handbook, and we all admired him. I can still see his dark, gaunt, sun-baked face, a cigarette hanging from his lips, moving quickly from task to task. As a young boy he, his father and brothers arrested a murderer. One boy stood in the Entrance Kiosk, acting like a ranger, while the dad hid with a gun as the killer approached. Their dad had one of them hold the gun while he handcuffed the criminal. Doug could do anything: pack a horse, shoot a gun, climb a mountain. He was the ranger's ranger; he was our hero. The ship flew close to the rock and Doug gave the medicine a toss: Perfect! From high in the air and subject to the wild prop wash of the helicopter, it miraculously landed in Pete's lap. The day was off to a great start.

Pete was serious. He always had a wry dry sense of New England humor in his voice, but here he was more somber. I'm sure the additional years of experience had the effect bringing a touch of mortality to our situation. So was Bob. I was young and optimistic, another big adventure, but that didn't mean I wasn't afraid at times. The unroped trip down the mountain had put me in a protective mood, and I thoroughly checked every knot we tied, every carabiner snap, every foot and handhold. I understood with a Zen consciousness the minute details of the rock.

Pete had discussed with the team whether we should try to use the winch and haul Campbell in the litter back up the rock to the Upper Saddle, then down to the Lower Saddle for a ride out in the helicopter, or whether to lower him nearly 2,000' down the overhanging face to the Teton Glacier. We couldn't contemplate such a raising, trying to crank up the heavy litter, one or two litter attendants, and Campbell over loose, dangerous, and steep terrain. Later called 'The Impossible Rescue', this would become the most complex and difficult rescue in North America either way. Pete was a philosopher, a lover of Wittgenstein, and so after consulting the crew, mainly Ortenburger and Irvine, we opted for the lowering.

My mind is foggy on who did exactly what every minute for the next two days, so if I get a bit of it wrong after 42 years, please cut me a bit of slack, as we would say in the mountains. We all took turns doing everything. It is likely the greatest bit of coordinated teamwork I've ever done, and over the past 50 years, I've done hundreds of rescues. The joy of working together as a team had the most profound effect on the rest of my life; on every task I looked for a team approach, hoping to duplicate our spirit and success.

We strapped Campbell inside the Stokes litter with a helmet over his face to protect him from falling rocks. He and his bloody splint and bandages were tucked inside a goose down-filled military surplus sleeping bag. A 7/16" nylon rope on each end of the litter tied with bowline knots made a self-equalizing system, so Campbell wouldn't dump out going over the edge. Pete had him packaged so that he could constantly check the wound and make sure he had feeling in the leg. It was a terrible wound.

I believe on that first day, Irvine hand-drilled 4-1/4" holes in the rock, pounded in expansion bolts on hangers with holes drilled in them. We must have all taken turns, because this was hard work. Bob wrapped the 1/4" steel cable around the grooves in the wooden belay drum for friction, and held onto the cable with his gloved hands to lower the litter down the cliff. This was the great anchor that the winch was tied to and from which all of our lives depended. An aluminum raising crank was set up, too, in case we needed to transfer the load and raise it up.

A second system of belay ropes was set up for security and tied onto the litter next to the cable. Rick tied a carabiner-break bar friction system, invented by Dunbar, onto the anchor and wrapped the rope through it, then placed the rope around his waist for additional security in case the cable were to fail. We had practiced and used this rope technique a hundred times, but the cable was new, and we had never used it.

Ted volunteered to take the first lowering. I have a photo of him with a grim face, two-day old beard, wearing his hard hat ready to drop. The space program had begun to make our lives easier. Just recently we had graduated from huge battery-powered radios carried by a horse to the new Motorola hand-held sets with rechargeable NiCad batteries. Ted carried a radio for communications, and we kept a second one on the belay ledge. As Bob and Rick lowered him and Campbell over the lip the steel cable jumped hard scaring all of us. It appeared that it had snapped. But it was just the way the cable ran, in jumps and fits. For the next two days, each pop and jump of the cable frayed my nerves as they themselves were the cable.

This procedure, setting up a bomb-proof anchor, changing the ropes and cable, and lowering down the face was repeated over and over, with all of us taking turns at every station. In my mind I can see Irvine heading over the cliff, Ted peering over the edge for communications, Rick and Ermarth holding onto the ropes and cables, their waists tied to the rock, their feet braced against a lip or crack, letting the precious package down an inch at time. Gravity pulls straight down, making traverses across the mountain difficult. The litter attendant needs to scrape across the rock, pulling the heavy Stokes and its packaged victim, and if there is a slip, risks a dangerous rock-pounding pendulum swing backwards. We had dropped a hundred or so feet down from the Second Ledge to the First Ledge, then we dragged the litter sideways down that ledge another full 300'. Another short lowering brought us near the end of the ledge. We either needed to continue down the climbing route full of difficult traverses and dangerous rock-fall or drop straight over the overhanging edge of the North Face.

We had only a maximum of 300' of cable and rope to reach the next ledge; there appeared to be nothing between our position and the rock Grandstand below, which we hoped was no more than 600 feet. We needed to find an intermediate ledge at 300 feet. The Grandstand intersects the North Face at a right angle from the west, with the glacier well below. The wall overhung terribly, so there would be no way to crank Campbell back up if we misjudged the distance. Ortenburger the statistician and Irvine the mathematician put their heads together, tossed a rock over the edge and timed the return of the sound hitting the rock Grandstand. Recently, Irvine, our great friend, professor, retired, sent us this explanation:

Apparently no one has ever written down the details about measuring the distance from the First Ledge to the Grandstand. I have seen many vague references about counting seconds waiting for the return of the sound of the impact of a dropped rock. There is even talk about mathematicians using those seconds to calculate the distance the rock fell. Despite much fuzziness about some of the details, the calculations remain clear in my mind.

If an object falls in a vacuum under the influence of a constant acceleration, in this case due to gravity, the calculations are straightforward. In just two steps, unfortunately involving calculus, we arrive at the formula

s =(½)gt²,

where s is the distance fallen, g is the acceleration and t is the time. If we remember that the force of gravity increases the velocity of a falling object by about 32 feet per second for every second fallen and we measure the time in seconds, s will be in feet. Hence

s= 16 t².

Unfortunately, the problem is more complicated than this because air resistance will have a significant effect on the falling time. The air resistance is approximately proportional to the square of the velocity, and this fact changes the differential equation into a rather intractable form.

Our only recourse up on the mountain was to make an estimate, hopefully based on common sense. The simplest thing to do was to calculate how long it would take the rock to fall a distance greater than 600 feet in a vacuum, thereby compensating for the time needed for the rock, slowed by air resistance, to fall just 600 feet. We used 640 feet for the estimate. Putting this in the formula, we immediately arrive at

40 = t²,

so the time for the rock to fall is about 6.3 seconds. Since sound travels about 1100 feet per second, the sound will take just a bit over half a second to return after a fall of 600 feet. Adding in the half second for the sound to return meant that we wanted the total time to be just under 7 seconds.

When we first dropped a rock, I believe that the time was in the neighborhood of 7.8 seconds. Unfortunately, I did not write down the numbers. In any case, there was a good chance that we were significantly more than 600 feet above the grandstand.

We then proceeded quite a ways down the first ledge and then cut back to the west on another ledge, thus arriving at a point below our first measuring point. It is worth noting that simply going down the first ledge meant traveling more or less parallel to the Grandstand and not getting much closer.

When we dropped rocks from our second vantage point, the sound returned in just about 7 seconds. The use of "in the neighborhood" and "just about" is due to my fuzzy memory, not bad accounting practices. I had a stopwatch and times were measured to the nearest fifth of a second (maybe Rolex could have used this in an ad).

We know that the estimate turned out to be better than we could have expected. We made two 150-foot rappels down to the second bivouac ledge. Continuing the next morning, I remember disengaging from the 300 foot rappel and noting that the unweighted rope retreated to a position just above my head. I also remember noticing that for about 250 feet of that rappel, we were hanging free of the rock, descending over a significant overhang. We were pleased that the litter was not left dangling somewhere on the overhanging part of the face.

Some weeks later...

Well, here we go again. The vexing problem of the falling rock has once again invaded my curiosity. The "rather intractable" differential equation which describes the motion of a rock falling in the atmosphere is only intractable in the sense that its solution is complicated enough to want the solver to have access to pencil and paper. More difficulties arise because the solution involves some esoteric functions which cannot be evaluated without recourse to some sort of electronic device (or a slide rule, for the old folks). Also, a key element is missing. If the air resistance is proportional to the square of the velocity, what is the constant of proportionality?

The rock will continue to accelerate until the resisting force is equal to the weight of the rock, that is to say, the rock has reached terminal velocity. For example, if you fall out of an airplane, your terminal velocity will probably be a bit less than 200 feet per second. A small meteor that reaches the earth does so at about 350 feet per second. If we know the terminal velocity for a rock, we can calculate how far it will fall in a given time, even without knowing that elusive constant of proportionality.

If 1/k is the terminal velocity, g is the acceleration due to gravity, t is the time, and s is the distance fallen,

s = (1/(gk2) )LN(COSH(gkt)).

In this absurd expression LN is the logarithm function and COSH is the hyperbolic cosine function (related to a hyperbola in a manner similar to the relationship of the cosine function to a circle).

To arrive at this formula requires significant floundering in some messy calculus and if you believe this result, I have some lake-bottom property to sell you (complete with a bridge that I picked up in Brooklyn a few years back).

However, it is surprising to view the results for various terminal velocities. It is rather likely that the terminal velocity of a rock is somewhere between that of a human and a meteor. Please ignore the differences among granite and schist and odd shapes. One further admonition - these subjects are not usually discussed in polite company. You do so at your own risk.

It is hard not to notice the fact that if our rock had the good sense to have a terminal velocity of 300 feet per second, it would have fallen 597 feet during its allotted time.

I am now retiring to the woodpile to sip a gin and tonic.


I insert this almost in its entirety to show Irvine's Martini-dry sense of humor, and the type of people with whom I have spent most of my life. It has been an honor.

We trusted Bob and Leigh. They had been so very accurate so far, and we were all still alive and intact, Campbell was doing well, although in pain and grumpy. We set up the anchors for the next lowering, and Leigh hopped off like an elf to find a route and a ledge. He had kept his optimism and sense of humor totally intact, as if this was the terrain he was born to. I know we were nervous about this section; none of us but Leigh had been near it, hanging hollow, cold, dark and wet beneath us. He called back that he had found a ledge, barely at the correct height, and with rope-stretch, the litter would reach. If memory is correct, Pete lowered off with Gaylord on the first 300 feet to a small slanting ledge. I remember him hanging backwards onto the stokes litter, his too-short knickers baring his thin climbers' legs, as he pushed off backwards over the brink, guiding the litter over the lip of rock and disappearing down the cliff. Although I was still on the First Ledge, I remember from the radio traffic that Pete was having an epic. The litter was swinging, and Leigh managed to pull it to safety on a minuscule slanting shelf.

Now began the first of two 300' rappels, sliding descents down the rope so we could join the others below. The first rappel over the edge, we could do with a brake bar, saving our clothes and skin by letting the friction heat be absorbed by the aluminum. The five of us one by one slid down the rope to our new home, cozy as though it was. We again set up an anchor, Leigh and Mike descended to scout the next 300 feet and to set up the next anchor. The rope reached the Grandstand! Time to move; Pete and Gaylord in the rapidly fading light headed off into the abyss. The gray granite, the dirty summer snow, and the steel blue sky reinforced that we were in a somber situation. We caught some gritty water seeping down the granite walls. Each of us rummaged in our packs and pockets for any morsel of food. We hadn't eaten anything since yesterday; those sandwiches left in Lupine Meadows now seemed so far away. The lack of food was slowing our bodies, but we were young and tough, and no one complained. That evening as we sat tied to the ledge we searched for anything to eat. There is a slight difference of opinion here, with some remembering part of a candy bar. I can only remember a few jelly beans from a pants' pocket to divide between the four of us on the ledge. It is the most vivid memory of the entire adventure.

The Third Day - Lowering Onto the Glacier

We were down to the final lowerings. Meanwhile at the Teton Glacier, the helicopter with Shellinger and Jack Morehead, the North District Ranger and members of the support team arrived for the carry-out. I remember at the first sign of dawn, Jack with his humorous voice got on the park radio and said, "This is the Frosty Flats Ranger Station calling the North Face Rescue Team...Good Morning!" He had dug a small trench up the steep side of the glacier near the Grandstand so that the helicopter could land higher up and slide its skid into the trench, preventing it from slipping back down the ice. This would save valuable time in carrying Gaylord across the long glacier, a slow process always. However if the helicopter slipped, we would lose it down the mountain.

Mike, Pete, and Leigh had the anchors built on the Grandstand for the next 300' section, however it wasn't overhanging, and they made great time. It leaned back easily, and a descent to the glacier from here was a piece of cake compared to what we had been through. They were as good as gone, but we were isolated and alone, with only two short ropes to reach them.

We had lowered the litter, and now I installed a separate rappel anchor. I picked a bong-bong, a large aluminum angle-shaped piton that I pounded behind a large flake of rock on the wall. Given the angle, we couldn't have pulled it out, so I attached a long sling over the rock, and we trusted this free rappel to one piece of protection. Pete, Mike, and Leigh were going great guns, but we had given them the two 300' ropes, so we tied two 150' ropes together to reach the grandstand. I passed the single strand of goldline rope over my shoulder and under my crotch in a Dulfersitz, the friction of the rope on my body slowing my speed of descent downward. It hurt, cutting into my shoulder and crotch, but we were getting Campbell off the mountain today.

We spent the rest of the day lowering the litter down the Grandstand to the Glacier. I remember watching from above as they finally reached the glacier's ice, and the support team carried it to the waiting helicopter. The sound of the blades cutting the silent air into a roar was music to my ears. Campbell was off.

Celebration at Lupine Meadow

Rick, Bob, Ted, and I continued our rappel down the Grandstand to the glacier. I remember taking long strides on firm snow for the first time in several days, stretching my legs out straight; it felt great. We sauntered down to the toe of the glacier and waited for the helicopter to return and ferry us out two by two. When I stepped off the singing ship onto the ground at Lupine Meadows, Janet was waiting for me, wearing a red and white striped shirt, red pedal pushers, and a huge blond smile. A hug and a kiss, then off to a box of sandwiches where I totally wolfed one down. In 42 years I have never again been without food in the mountains. The Superintendent had bought us a case of beer, but these were still my Mormon days, and I refrained, stupidly in retrospect! Nothing but smiles. Doug was running around, a cigarette hanging from his lip, with his Crown Graphic press camera taking photos of us getting off the helicopter. I don't know where they ever went to. We have only this one group photo:

The Rescue Team
L. to R., Ted Wilson, Pete Sinclair, Ralph Tingey, Mike Ermarth, Rick Reese, Bob Irvine
Leigh Ortenburger was not in the photo.




The Rescue Begins

A helicopter was ordered to facilitate ferrying the rescue team to the Lower Saddle between the Grand Teton and the Middle Teton. But enormous fires were burning in the West. Our supervisor and Jenny Lake Sub-district Ranger, Dunbar Susong, had been called to fight the fires in Glacier National Park. All the helicopters were fighting fires, so it wasn't until after noon that a three-place supercharged Hiller UH-12 helicopter piloted by Dan Hawkins came down to ferry the rangers up.

Rick and Pete were the first helicoptered to the Lower Saddle, the broad divide between the Middle and Grand Tetons. They were carrying the emergency first aid pack and light gear, so they made good time climbing up the Owen-Spaulding route, across the 'Belly Roll' and the 'Crawl' where they stepped over the Great West Chimney and descended to the 'Second Ledge' of the North Face to find Gaylord Campbell and Lorrie Hough at the accident site.

Standing at the Lower Saddle, a broad scree slope separating the Middle and Grand Teton peaks. The helicopter landing is just in front of the photographer. The Upper Saddle is the large notch straight ahead

Gaylord had a compound fracture of the lower leg, with bones sticking out. He had splinted it with his ice ax and some rope, so Rick and Pete replaced it with a plastic inflatable splint and made him as comfortable as possible. Ted and Mike were partners on the next flight and made a second rope team heading to the accident site.

But an amazing and serendipitous coincidence was unfolding at the same time: Bob Irvine was climbing the Grand Teton with Leigh Ortenburger, the legendary Sylvania mathematician and Teton historian who had written "The Climbers Guide to the Tetons". (I still treasure my copy.) As they were descending from the summit they heard the crys and commotion on the North Face and made their way down the ledges and cliffs to the accident site. No one knew the mountain, and particularly the North Face like Ortenburger, and although not a park service employee, he spent every summer in the Tetons and was the key to the routefinding on the rescue. Irvine was the only one who knew how to use the Austrian winch. Two essential members of the team just happened to drop in on the rescue at the exact moment they were needed.

In the Lupine Meadows housing area which became the logistics and helicopter pad, one of the wives brought sandwiches for the team. However they were declined as too heavy. We though we'd be back by dark or in the morning. That would come to haunt us!

Support to the Upper Saddle

The support team was next ferried to the Lower Saddle in multiple loads with all of the supplies and gear the rescue team would need to execute the rescue. This included a number of 120' and 150' braided nylon ropes, some Goldline, some Columbia white nylon, and some military surplus ropes dyed olive drab, all coiled in 'mountaineer's coils'. The main lowering device was an Austrian winch and lowering cable with two 300' spools of 1/4" steel cable and a friction drum. The crew carried ropes, pitons, carabiners, packs, more first aid gear, parkas, the short 15'-7/16" slings that Dunbar Susong had prepared for the litter, and the steel and wire Stokes litter on two Kelty pack frames. More stuff, I'm sure, but that is what I remember. My job was to lead the Support Team from the Lower Saddle to the Upper Saddle, which rises another two thousand feet up the mountain and separates the Enclosure peak from the Grand Teton. We were all humping extremely heavy loads: just the steel cables weighed 40 pounds each, plus each member carried personal gear. It was way more than any of us had carried at this altitude.

Ted and Mike remained to attend to Campbell while Pete and Rick climbed back up the route to the Upper Saddle with Lorrie and delivered her to the Support Team who escorted her back down to the Lower Saddle and the waiting helicopter. One down, one to go. Most of the support team, after an exhausting day of dragging the heavy loads up the mountain, returned to the Lower Saddle for the night. I stayed with the Scott brothers and Ted; we bivouaced at 13,000' on a small ledge of the dizzying West Face, waiting to ferry the loads down the difficult and treacherous terrain of the North Face to the accident site.

Yellowstone National Park officials had requested that the Hiller 'copter return to Cody, Wyoming, before dark on August 22 and said they would send "their helicopter" for the rest of the evacuation. The second helicopter, piloted by Don Schellinger, (nicknamed "Crash"), left West Yellowstone that evening in order to be ready first thing on the morning of August 23. The ship would remain till the end.

Carrying Loads Down the North Face

We spent the better part of the morning carrying the awkward loads on our backs down the North Face. All climbers rope together and place protection with pitons and carabiners in case of a fall, but for some reason, probably because we were very familiar with the terrain and were hurrying, we opted not to tie into the ropes. I remember Pete and I carried the Stokes litter, a pipe and wire basket that we had sawed in half. They were military surplus, used to ferry injured sailors between ships. Each cumbersome half was about three feet high and was lashed to a Kelty Pack Frame, not the ideal mountain climbing load. I calling to Pete telling him how nice it would be to have a rope; he replied, "Yeah, sure would be!", and we continued on. The exposure here was a vertical 3'000 feet and the rock was loose. I remember I was wearing my park ranger shirt and badge, corduroy nickers, Norwegian wool socks, and Lowa climbing boots with Vibram soles. We picked our way down the granite cliff with the loads, talking our way through the obstacles, placing our feet so very carefully to avoid dislodging a rock on a buddy. By afternoon we were all assembled with the gear. Forty two years later, I still wake in the middle of the night wondering and worrying how we all survived.


While writing this I'm preparing to reunite with the aging members of the rescue team in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, next week. Everyone has been very excited at the prospect of getting us back to Jenny Lake to celebrate and relive those memories of yesteryear. The amount of detail a gaggle of AARP members can conjure up from those senior brains is staggering! But, as I read the past six-months of email traffic I became concerned. I didn't remember the tiny details, but instead had conveniently replaced them with greater truth. Thus, I sent this email few days ago:

Dear Friends,

I have been giving the little project a lot of thought. In trying to remember the many factoids, narratives, conversations, and sequences, I constantly return to the more comfortable, although admittedly slightly less reliable, but arguably more heroic myths and tales that have supplanted the dry, distant, and rapidly dimming reality of the past.

I am concerned that the tremendous attention to detail on the part of the other 5 members will lead to a devaluation of the growing body of mythology which has continued to transform the story. In particular, Rick's detailed notes and his historian's objectivity could prove fatal to the supremely stylized annotations I've evolved in retelling the tale over the past 42 years. And Bob's razor-sharp photographic mathematician's memory and rational thought could possibly threaten the highly evolved myths, ceremonies, and religious ecstasy of the experience. Mike is a historian at one of the most prestigious institutions in America, and he seems to constantly fill in details that have escaped the rest of the crew. And Pete has frozen the nascent myths in time by writing it all down in a book, thus preventing
mythologizing process.

So, this gives me a little task. It will be my particular job to stand in front of the camera and tell the new and improved truth. I will need to improvise a tiny bit in order to add to the already impressive database of fiction, exaggeration, and myth, and thereby retain our current and rightful place in the halls of mountain heroes.

And so, my fellow travelers, you can count on me to do my part to keep our honor and heroic stature not only untarnished, but suitably enhanced. See you in a couple of weeks!

Your faithful friend,

Each member emailed back, with an understanding and patronizing tone, reminding me I'm just old, and I remember only the myths.
From Bob:
To all, and especially Ralph:

Here is the final, self-evident truth:

I am leaving for a river trip and will not return until July 30th. My failure to respond to email is due to absence, not rudeness.

Ted Commented:

You are assigned to Head Mythologist. Keep it pure!


Rick Replied:

I loved your mail entitled "The Truth," and especially liked "religious ecstasy."
Don't let our "objectivity and attention to detail" interfere with the story-telling. Indeed, most viewers of this film won't care about the "certifiable truth," and it should not get in the way of the real truth in all of this which is: The older we get, the better we were.
On another matter. Where were you in September,1964, the date of that wonderful photo taken at the Alpenbock climbing seminar in Little Cottonwood. I was still in the Tetons that year, and Irvine may have been there too. But where were you? Finland or ???

And Peter Pilafian, the photographer who filmed Clint Eastwood in "The Eiger Sanction", and will document our reunion, wrote this wonderful reply:

Dear Ralph -

I am in complete sympathy with your insightful and penetrating observations regarding the nature of what has given this incredible story its true power. We in the mythologizing business have long recognized that the intrusion of an excessive density of factual material, and its junior offspring, known as ‘factoids’, more often than not has an erosive effect on the propagation of what the late Joseph Campbell has called ‘ the Mythic Realm.’

In order to protect this project from any further such degradation, we will be providing each of you with a novel device known as the “Mythosphere” upon arrival in or near the Source of Origin. This easy-to-wear transparent bubble has the unique quality of allowing story-telling and other sounds to pass outward from the person wearing the device, but does not allow any spoken verbiage to come inward through the membrane. Thus we will decisively prevent the pollution of all exaggerations, hyperbole, witty anecdotes, tales of heroism, Olympian references, mathematical prowess under duress, number of ropes being carried up overhanging rock without protection, etc. etc.

Once the wind has gone out of the Mythosphere, it will automatically deflate, and the film cameras will then turn off, so that the court reporters and stenographers can get to work setting the record straight. Meanwhile the film crew will be floating down the Snake with a case of Microbrew, digitizing P2 memory storage cards under the full moon.

I hope this plan will stave off your concerns, Ralph, and yet at the same time offer an obscure but potentially reliable method for honoring the alleged importance of what some would call ‘historical accuracy.’ These carefully crafted, factual transcriptions, will be held in the strictest confidence at a museum of your choice, until such time as the parties all agree they should go on public display.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

Onward and Upward,




Friday, July 24, 2009



The Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park. The Grand Teton in the center, the Lower Saddle to it's left. Mount Owen to the right, (north), then Teewinot. The Teton Glacier sits in the bowl between them, with the unseen North Face on the opposite side of the photo.

The Visit

The ranger residence at Jenny Lake Campground was our home in the Summer of 1967. The little one-room log cabin sat behind the Jenny Lake Store, and about 50 yards from the Jenny Lake Ranger Station. My wife, Janet, and I were enjoying a late evening at home when a knock on the door changed my life. The man asked, "Is your father at home?" I was a young looking 22 years old but married; my father was a physician in Salt Lake City, so I said, "No, he's in Salt Lake." Taken aback he replied, "I'm looking for a ranger"; I told him I was the ranger, so he came in and told me his tale.

Fritz Frohner and his companion, Leo Slaggie, had climbed Mount Owen, the 12,800' peak north of and across the Teton Glacier from the North Face of the 13,770' Grand Teton. As they were descending, they heard cries for help coming from the North Face of the Grand. Light was beginning to fade, so they could not pinpoint the location of the calls. Because of the distance the men were from the face, I asked if they were sure they heard calls for help and not just climbing calls. They were sure they heard "help".

I got into the Ranger truck, and the two men drove their car behind me to the Glacier Gulch scenic turnout, about three miles south on the Teton Park road where there is a direct view of the North Face of the Grand. I positioned the truck directly facing the mountain and flashed a Morse code SOS with the headlight, then looked at the face for any reply. Immediately three dots, three dashes, and three dots from a flashlight came from high up on the face. I flashed the car lights again to let the party know we had seen them. They flashed the SOS again...and again.

Report to Pete

I thanked the two men and let them go to their campground; they had been climbing all day and had a fast hike down the mountain. The thought of a rescue on the North Face started my heart racing. It was late, but I really needed to get into action and involve my supervisor.

Pete Sinclair was the lead Jenny Lake Ranger; he and his wife Connie, two children, Kurt and Melanie, and dog, Jenny, lived in the old main lodge of the former Kimmel Cabins at Jenny Lake. I drove over, knocked on the door; he and Connie were still up, because he had been on a float trip on the Snake River with the legendary John Cooke. The three of us stood in the kitchen around the beautiful old cast iron range, and Connie made coffee while I filled them in on the situation. We decided that we had identified that there was a party in distress; they were alive; we had pinpointed their location; and that we could do little in the middle of the night. I was to go back to Glacier Gulch at first light, check the North Face with the spotting scope and try to make contact again. Pete would go to the station and begin the preparations for a rescue. I'm sure it was a daunting challenge.

The Sighting

All climbers were required to register at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station before attempting a climb. A ranger would interview the climbers, obtain vital information such as name, address, age, weight (so we would know how many rescuers to send to carry them out!), climbing experience, and next of kin. This information was recorded on 4" x 5" climbing cards. Each time a climber signed out for a climb, a paper slip was thumb-tacked to a large beaver-board behind the desk; the slips were arranged by peak and by due-date indicating the mountain, route climbed, the members of the party, and the time expected out. When climbers returned, they checked back in at the station; after closing, there was a box on the front porch where the climber signed back in with the party name, the time returned, and how long it had taken to climb the route. Each morning, first thing, we checked the box, checked in late-returning climbers, and pulled the slips off the board.

Before I headed out the door that morning I walked over to the Ranger Station, opened the door with my P1 key and checked the board. The only party on the North Face consisted of Gaylord Campbell and Lorrie Hough. They were quite experienced and certainly capable of climbing the North Face. Now I knew who was on the face.

Back at Glacier Gulch at first light I set up the Bausch and Lomb 15 - 60 power spotting scope on the tripod. We had bought the scope for the possibility of looking for victims on the mountain, but to my knowledge we had never used it. I scanned the first ledge, then the second ledge on the face under low power and immediately saw two people: one standing, moving and walking around, the second in a sleeping bag. I turned up the power to 60 and could make out the colors of the clothing. I could see both were alive, one injured, the other apparently uninjured. I flashed the lights on the truck again to give them hope that help was on the way. Then I drove back to Jenny Lake to help organize the gear and get the rescue underway.

The North Face of the Grand Teton, about 4,000' of vertical relief. The Second Ledge is the tiny snow patch in the center, directly below the summit.

The Plan

The park superintendent was Jack Anderson. Claude (Mac) McClain was the Chief Ranger. The South District was run by Doug McLaren. The Jenny Lake Sub-district Ranger, Dunbar Susong, was our immediate permanent supervisor. Unfortunately, Dunbar had been called away to fight fires in Glacier National Park for a month and was not available when the rescue began.

Pete phoned Doug McLaren; McClaren called McClain; McClain rang up the Superintendent. That's how it works in the park service. The chain of command put all of their procedures into action: coordination with Yellowstone Park, Regional Office in Omaha, and the Forest Service; preparations for the media; notification of relatives; and support for the rescue.

But the responsibility for planning and implementing the rescue on the mountain was ours, and Pete Sinclair was our boss. We met at the ranger station and outlined roles and responsibilities.

The first response rescue team on the mountain would be led by Pete and consist of Rick Reese, Ted Wilson, and Mike Ermarth. Bob Irvine was with Leigh Ortenburger on top of the Grand Teton. A helicopter from Yellowstone National Park would ferry the first response team to the Lower Saddle of the Grand, from where they would climb to the Upper Saddle, traverse across the West Face, and down to the Second Ledge on the North Face. A support team would be ferried to the Lower Saddle. The support team would bring ropes, a stokes litter, the lowering cable, and all the extra gear we might need. This team would stage the gear at the Upper Saddle, and the rescue team would then ferry it down to the rescue site on the face. Initially, I would lead that team.

The Rescue Team

The Jenny Lake rangers in 1967 consisted of Pete Sinclair, Bob Irvine, Rick Reese, and myself. The park rangers lived in a set of beautiful log cabins on the shore of Cottonwood Creek, formerly theKimmel Cabins, now owned by the National Park Service. On the west side of the creek were the Jenny Lake Rangers. On the east side were the road patrol rangers and the park naturalists. Leon R. (Pete) Sinclair lived in the beautiful main lodge with a granite cobble fireplace and a huge cast iron wood stove. Bob, his wife Marie, daughter Stacy, and son Craig lived in the end cabin. Rick and MaryLee Reese lived next door in the tiny cabin. I and my wife Janet lived in the ranger cabin in the Jenny Lake Campground, next to the ranger station.

Pete Sinclair had been a ranger in the Tetons since the early 60's and was the head Jenny Lake ranger. He was our hero: in 1959 he and friends had made the first ascent of the famous West Rib on Mount McKinley; he had also climbed the north face of Mount Moran, "hollow like a dead man's chest", was how he had described it. Pete was working on aPh.D. in English from the University of Washington. Each summer he, his family, with German shepard , Jenny (named after Jenny Lake), would drive in their little Volkswagen down from Seattle and set up house in the big cabin. He would become professor of English at the newly built Evergreen University in Olympia, Washington.

At the time of the accident, Bob Irvine was climbing the Grand Teton with Leigh Ortenberger, the famous Palo Alto climber. I had known Bob since I was a young climber; he was the first of our Alpenbock Climbing Club to get a job in the Tetons. I had always looked up to Bob as being a superb athlete, having great common sense, and a brilliant mind; he was working on a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Utah. Bob later became professor of mathematics at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.

Rick Reese was also from Salt Lake City, one of my favorite climbing partners in the Alpenbock club. He was tall, funny, smart, and handsome. He had gotten a job the year before me after getting out of 2 years in the National Guard during the Bay of Pigs fiasco. I remember when we went to the Jenny Lake Store in 1961: we had a milkshake, and he read the paper where the headlines were that his National Guard unit was called into active duty. I remember him standing in the rain with his Levi jacket, cut off levis, and his thumb out hitching a ride back to Salt Lake City to join his unit. Rick was working on a Ph .D. in International Studies from Denver University. He went on to organize the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, be first director of the YellowstoneInstutite, and conceive and implement the Bonneville Shoreline trail around Salt Lake City.

That summer Ted Wilson and his wife Cathy were living at Colter Bay; he was a road patrol ranger in the north district. I had climbed the East Ridge route on Mount Owen with Ted in 1959. Ted had eloped with Cathy a few years before, and they married in the Chapel of Transfiguration in the Tetons. He was a high school economics teacher, who had also dragged Cathy to Europe to teach skiing and climbing to the Swiss in Lausanne in 1964 with the International School of Mountaineering, run by John Harlin, who shortly thereafter died falling off the North Face of the Eiger . All the great climbers of the day worked at that school. Ted would go on to be mayor of Salt Lake City for three terms and run against Orrin Hatch for the United States Senate in 1989. Later he became director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. We were back together, all married, all in graduate school, all Jenny Lake Rangers.

In 1962, one of the most terrible tragedies occurred on the Otter Body route on the Grand Teton. Members of the Appalachian Mountain Club were caught in a snowstorm, and the rescue is part of climbing lore. Mike Ermarth and Pete Sinclair were on that rescue, so Mike was a seasoned veteran of big rescues. He worked at the Fire Cache at Colter Bay in the North District of the Park. He and I had climbed the dreaded Jensen Ridge on Symmetry Spire together, and I though of him as about the best climber I had known. He was working on a Ph.D. in modern history and went on to become a professor at Dartmouth.

Yours Truly was the youngest member; it was my third year in the park. Janet worked at the Jenny Lake Store, I walked another 50 feet to the Ranger Station. This had been my dream summer job as a young climber: paid to climb mountains, rescue folks, hunt, fish, trap, have a bronze body, and live in a log cabin in the pines with a beautiful blond. After serving a Mormon mission in Finland, I had just graduated from the University of Utah with the somewhat esoteric and impractical B.A. in Classical Greek and had been accepted into aPh.D. program at the Johns Hopkins University in Near Eastern Languages, principally Arabic, for the fall.

And by the luckiest of coincidences we will meet Leigh Ortenburger, the legendary climber, historian and writer, married to Irene, for whom Irene's Arete, the most beautiful climb in the Tetons is named. Irene was a professor at Stanford, Leigh a statistician at Sylvania in Palo Alto. Leigh and Irene spent every summer in the Tetons, a lot of it climbing with us. I asked once how he took the time off? "I have all the statistics in my head; they can't fire me!" he replied.

The Support Team

The support team was made up of excellent climbers with other jobs in the park: rangers, ranger naturalists, and maintenance workers. Irvin L. Mortenson , Jr., a park ranger who would go on to become Superintendent of Badlands National Park. David G. Stevenson, a fine climber and all-around nice guy. Harold A. (Woody)Woodham , a fire control aid who would later move to Alaska near me and give me a beautiful Labrador Retriever, 'Lightning', my favorite dog ever. The Scott brothers, Hugh W. Scott, III, and Lawrence T. Scott. Hugh would go on to be postmaster in Jackson; Larry and I did a bunch of climbing together; he was married to Carolyn, and was a dear personal friend. He would wind up as professor of chemistry at Boston College. William L. Mekell was an engineer from the Denver Service Center who was full of energy. Years later I met his lovely daughter when she came to work in the Tetons! And Richard L. Black, the smoke jumper from Yellowstone and our helicopter expert.

Background - Two Weeks Before...

I had always wanted to climb the North Face of the Grand; it was one of the great prizes in the American mountaineering, and all of the Jenny Lake Rangers had done it. So, in July I found a kindred spirit in the Climbers Campground, John Storjohann . He had been climbing with Peter Cleveland and had done a pile of hard sustained climbs that summer. Don had a great reputation as competent and very strong, an Iowa farm guy, long and lanky, with a cheerful smile. We would be a fine team: we were the same age, both pretty good rock climbers, with a fair amount of experience.

I had a day off, Don was off for the summer, so we headed out in the morning hiking the 6-mile Amphitheater Lake trail. From the lake we scrambled up through the notch and around the corner onto the Teton Glacier moraine and glacier, and crossed over the bergschrund , the giant crack where the glacier separates from the rock face. The lower part of the route is smooth and doesn't look climbable, but some rotten cracks lead up higher onto the face. The climbing was great and we were in good form. The bat guano chimney was the only real obstacle, because it was my lead, and my pack got stuck a bit as I tried to 'chimney' with it on. We were on a stroll without a care in the world, and we'd given oursleves two days for the climb, so we bivouac-ed on the large First Ledge in our down coats with our feet in our packs. We were half-way up the face, so we were in no hurry in the morning to complete the route, got up at sunrise, and cooked a breakfast with the stove. The rock was warm as we continued up the climb, past the "pendulum swing" and back into the "traverse in to the V". It was a beautiful, warm day, so we basked in the sun on the summit for a while. Eventually we wandered down the mountain to our wives and dinner: me to Janet, Jon toChristy.

Don Storjohann took this photo of me leading up the first ledge of the North Face, no ice ax, no crampons, no protection; just a rope. The Second Ledge looms at the top of the photo.
It was a wild time!

My companion Don was an important part of the whole North Face story; without him, I wouldn't have been nearly the person I came to be on the rescue. And, I never thought I'd be back that summer, but the experience of having been up the face just the previous month was a tremendous support to me on the rescue. I wasn't nervous about the difficulties, because I knew the layout of the face, including the escape routes. I also had the confidence of knowing I could climb unassisted on the sloping ledges, in spite of the huge exposure.

Don sent me this photo holding the large camera he took on the North Face climb in 1967
He would go on to become one of the photographic pioneers of the process to make computer chips.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Attack of the Rhubarb

I am a hunter-gatherer. My father and grandfather were hunter-gatherers. I am not a gardener. But...I do have a little garden.

These are my two Rhubarb plant growing in wild abandon at the side of the house. Summer in Alaska is that magical place that grows hundred-pound cabbages, with all-day light, where plants grow visibly each day. Rhubarb pops out of the ground first, while there is still snow and frost on the ground, and after a very few weeks I need to start harvesting it, otherwise, as you can see from the photo, I can't walk down the path to the shop.

The rhubarb grows next to the chives, which grow next to the wild lilies, my favorite plant in the garden, which rise like spears up through the wild mint, choked by chickweed and butter & eggs. I don't weed very often and feel guilty as I do, as if pulling mandrakes.

But I gladly harvest the large stems of the rhubarb plant, lop off the leaf, take a bundle of stems into the kitchen and chop them into inch-long bitter bits.

I'm fairly old-fashioned, and I am such a fan of anything made with butter. So I take a cube of slightly soft butter, and cut it for a long time into flour until it is almost mixed. Then I roll it into two balls, insert them one at a time between two sheets of wax paper to make the shell and top. I like a Pyrex pie plate best; the aluminum ones get holes and the stuff dribbles onto the oven and smokes up the house.

Next, I toss three cups of rhubarb and one cup of sliced strawberries in a mixing bowl, add a quarter cup of tapioca for thickener, and a third of a cup of sugar to cut the sour of the rhubarb, and a pinch of salt; mix it all up and let it sit for 10 minutes.

I seal the pie by pushing a fork around the edge, a trick I learned from my grandmother Katie Mae Daly Hurst, born in Cedar City, Utah, the daughter of Irish potato famine immigrants, with 13 children. I'm sure she learned it from her mother, and so on. You get the picture.

A quick slice of t he knife around the edge produces a perfectly round pie, and a lot of shavings.

A few slices in the top so the steam doesn't build up.

The shavings are a treat! Another trick from Grandma Hurst. Lay the pieces in a baking pan, sprinkle with sugar and either cinnamon or nutmeg...your choice, and bake for a brief 10 minutes.

Little kids love 'em! So do big kids...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009



"When you look at these mountains it makes our problems seem so small".
A passing traveler on the trail

The Canadian Rockies: Mount Temple, Chephren, Mount Edith Cavell, North Twin, Assiniboine...these are names that make my heart sing. Ever since I was a young boy my heart has been in the mountains. And the Canadian Rockies are the epitome of mountains. For years I've driven the Alcan highway from the West to Alaska, 4000 miles each way, a week's worth of driving. And every time, I detour at Calgary, head west to Canmore, Banff, and Jasper to drive through the national parks of Canada, and gaze up at the giants.

My friend Rebecca booked a week at a time-share condominium in Canmore, Alberta, Canada, and invited me along, knowing that I'd love to hike those mountains. She is a wonderful friend, full of life, a bundle of energy, and a fine companion.

But where to go first? When we got to Canmore we were pretty worn out from the flight and hungry. Crusing the main street in town, we picked “The Grizzly Paw” where the sign said, “Voted one of the 100 best pubs in the world”. How could we go wrong? After beer and burgers, I asked Jen, our waitress, what was her favorite hike. “Oh, you have to go to Lake Louise! I know there are like a zillion tourists there, but it’s so beautiful. And hike up to the teahouse at Agnes Lake!”

Rebecca and waitress at the Grizzly Paw

Hmmm? The name Agnes didn’t turn me on that much. I had a great Aunt Agnes. But, then I remembered that the mountains in the Lake Louise area are mostly named after British royalty.

Industrial tourism has changed the world; it has certainly changed Banff, the historic gem of the Canadian Rockies, where busloads of packaged tourists cruise the streets, shopping for Armani, Bulgari, and Ferragamo Salvatore in stores where the signs are in Japanese. But these cellophane-wrapped tourists are confined to the haunts of Banff and to Lake Louise. They are not to be seen beyond the imaginary boundaries of the Lake Louise Hotel grounds where they scuttle in Bali shoes over to the edge of the turquoise lake, Sony digital video camera in hand, Louis Vuitton purse dangling from the cashmere draped arm. I tell Rebecca, ‘You know there is a big magnetic gate just ahead. When one of these tourists passes through, a little trap door opens in the back of the head and the brains fall out.’ Rebecca laughs a big hearty mid-Western farm girl laugh. I smile, and we stroll along.

We waded through the slithering masses on the piazza, past the fences and walls of the compound, and headed up the well-traveled and highly-maintained trail towards the teahouse. ‘Agnes Lake Teahouse’, I mumble. ‘That has no soul, no ring, like a quartz watch…no ticking. What about Teahouse of the August Moon, but that’s already in use. How about Teahouse of the All-full Spoon, or Teahouse of the Absent Loon, or Teahouse of Awesome Poon?’ The silliness abated as we laid one foot in front of the other up the 2-mile hill through the ancient pine and fir forest.

We came upon a couple, chatted a bit and passed on. I’m a friendly soul, greeting everyone. Folks coming down the trail either looked cheery and answered when I said ‘Hello’, or their eyes were down in the dirt, not looking up to catch my gaze or answer my greeting. The Answerers I think must come from the mountains or the farms, happy to see a stranger. But the Avoiders I liken to Big City dwellers, bombarded daily by the seething mass of humanity, like a bucket of maggots who can’t get away from their kind and have been taught that eye contact with others is dangerous. Or maybe the friendly ones have been here longer, mellowed by the mountains, the clear clean air and the freedom of the place. The downcast are still in the thrall of their former environs.

We meet a group from Wales, enjoying their mid-British accents. I ask from what city, noting that my great ancestors were Welsh, Manx even! Suddenly we’re friends; a little connection made. If the travelers make it past the secret gate, most are so happy to be in the mountains that their personalities bubble out to passers-by.

Rebecca is cheery in spite of the fact that her orthopod has diagnosed her right knee with crunchy crappy crepitations. But she’s tough, and her doctor-son injected the knee with cortisone so she would be able to hike with me. I’m not sure he knew the type of hiking we had in mind. Miles and miles of hiking, several thousand feet of elevation gained and lost each day. She’s tough: born on a dairy farm in Pipestone, Minnesota, up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows. First marriage she raised two sons while running a turkey and hog farm:

75,0000 turkeys. I know she’s a hard worker and a hard body. So, a little hike with Ralph on a bum knee is no problem.

The turquoise lake below

The teahouse looms into view, and Agnes lake is a little jewel set in a high rock basin and spilling directly out of its mouth down a dizzying waterfall. The Canadians don’t seem to have the same concern that children will commit suicide without barriers, so we can scamper over to the rocks and look over the cliff at the foaming swirl below us. Directly above is the Beehive, a striated band of rock reminiscent of the name. Across Lake Louise below is the huge massif of Mount Temple, one of the crown jewels of the Canadian Rockies. And Lake Louise is as Jen described, perhaps the most beautiful place we could imagine…a place not to be missed.

Agnes Lake Teahouse

This first hike of our Banff National Park adventure was a contrast to the wilderness of Alaska that we were used to. But we had gone through a day-long filter from the comforts of a luxurious condominium, up a 4-lane highway, then onto a narrow road, past an iconic hotel filled with thousands of industrial tourists, and up a trail bordering on wilderness, but still with a teahouse, reminiscent of the British empire. But the view from the porch was magnificent, overlooking massive wilderness, snow crusted peaks luring me to their summits, and the promise of solitude and adventure.