Thursday, August 27, 2009



You never know when and how the past will come alive again. Last fall in Salt Lake City, Jenny Wilson, our friend Ted's Wilson's daughter, read her father's account of the 'Impossible Rescue' on the North Face of the Grand Teton in 1967. Rick Reese and I were at Ted's home, so Jenny asked if we would be willing to get together in the summer of 2009 in the Tetons and make a documentary movie of a reunion for the rescue. We naively agreed. For us six, it would become a grand get-together 42 years later. I won't spoil the movie. You'll have to wait a good amount of time to see it, but I'll let you all know when it comes out!

However much a film might appeal to my ego, the prospect of seeing the greatest bunch of friends together again was the force that drove me for the next eight months. The moment I arrived at Lupine Meadows in the Tetons my heart started to pound. We hadn't been together for 16 years, and although we were a bit gray, I was so excited I could hardly stand it. One by one I put my arms around my old friends, hugged, shook hands and felt the warmest of emotions surge.

Mike, Bob, and Rick reunite at Lupine Meadows in Grand Teton National Park


Pete Sinclair

Bob Irvine

Rick Reese

Mike Ermarth

Ted Wilson

Yours Truly again under the North Face of the Grand Teton!
(I never photograph myself, so I must credit my friend and cinematographer par excellance, Peter Pilafian)

The only missing member was our old friend Leigh Ortenburger who had died in 1991 in the Oakland fires. However, Irene Beardsley, who had been Leigh's wife in the 60's, lives in Jackson Hole and came to our reunion. She has been a friend to all of us for likely 50 years, so it was a wonderful treat to see her again. When I was a young man, she was one of the best women climbers in the country and the one who first climbed the most beautiful rock climb in the Tetons, Irene's Arete.

Irene Beardsley - Married to Leigh Ortenburger at the time of the rescue

The Jenny Lake Sub-district Ranger in 1967 was Dunbar Susong. He and his wife Alice showed up; they are still hale and hearty, and seeing them again was such a wonderful treat.

Irene's husband, Dan Goodman and Dunbar Susong - our supervisor and Jenny Lake Sub-district Ranger in 1967

The team in original order:
Ted Wilson, Pete Sinclair, Ralph Tingey, Mike Ermarth, Rick Reese, Bob Irvine

Half way through shooting the reunion, we were treated to a big surprise: Lorraine Hough McCoy, who had been climbing the North Face with Gaylord Campbell, and who called for help, bandaged and cared for him the first day, suddenly appeared. Hugs all around, tears, emotion, and love flowed better than in any Hollywood film. None of us had seen Lorrie for 42 years!

Lorraine Hough McCoy

I knew we were making a movie, but I did not understand that the press would still be interested in our story. During the filming, two fine men arrived: Reporter Lee Benson and photographer Ravell Call from the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. They followed us around, interviewed and photographed us for the next few days. The ensuing story continued to solidify the myths and ferret out the truths of the past 42 years.

Director Meredith Lavitt
Producer Jenny Wilson
Lunch at Amphitheater Lake

Jenny Wilson, a Salt Lake County councilwoman, had previously worked at Sundance, so she engaged the services of director Meredith Lavitt, a former colleague. The two of them and a crew they hired took over our every move. Each day was tightly scheduled. After we had gone through our initial greetings and small talk, the film crew was assembled on the front porch of the old cabin where Pete and Connie lived in the 60's and where Bob and Marie lived for almost 30 years afterwards.

The team and Lorraine on the porch of Pete's cabin in the 60's:
Rick, Pete, Ralph, Lorraine, Mike, Bob, Ted

Jenny and Meredith had found our old friend Peter Pilafian, now a famous cinematographer to film the event for the next week. It seemed that for every step I took, Peter took two, following us around, interviewing us individually, and setting up the scenes as we hiked and talked.

Cinematographer Peter Pilafian at lunch

The final day of shooting the entire crew of rescuers, family, cinematographers, directors and producers hiked up to the Teton Glacier at the base of the North Face of the Grand Teton. It was a fitting finale to a the most enjoyable week I can remember.

The entire crew on the Teton Glacier at the base of the North Face of the Grand Teton

For the Deseret News story see:

And for the Salt Lake Tribune coverage:

1 comment:

Cosmin Andron said...

Awesome story Ralph!