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Grand Teton National Park Report

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Since 1950, detailed records of all climbing accidents in Grand Teton National Park were maintained by rangers (and others) involved in rescue. In this paper, we present: 1) an overall summary of backcountry accidents, their locations, and causes since 1950; 2) several summaries of the accidents by decades, locations and activity levels; 3) a fatality synopsis; and 4) an in-depth overview of the current accident trend from 1994 through 1996, which includes a male and female accident profile, cause and location summary, cost analysis, and other important information. From 1950 through 1996, 609 significant backcountry accidents have occurred, resulting in an average of about 13 incidents per year. The two categories involving the greatest number of accidents include Fall on Rocks (195) and Fall on Snow (155). Most accidents occurred during the 1970's, and are currently on the decline. Accidents caused by Rockfall or Icefall were most prevalent in the 1960's, indicating that perhaps many of the popular routes were "cleaned" during this time period. From 1950 through the 1970's, the accident rate, when scaled for activity level during the decades, increased. Since the 1970's, the rate has decreased to a low in the 1990's (0.22%). The overall scaled accident rate for the period from 1950 through 1996 was 0.31%. The vast majority of climbing accidents occur in the Central and Northern climbing areas. In the Central Climbing area, the Grand Teton has the greatest number of incidents (121), followed by Disappointment Peak (39), Middle Teton (38), and Teewinot Mountain (32). In the Northern Climbing area, Symmetry Spire exhibits the greatest number of accidents (39). When examined by decades after being scaled for decade activity, a decline in the number of accident incidents for the 1990's is displayed in nearly all locations. One exception is Albright Peak in the Southern Climbing area, which shows a steady increase in incidents over the decades. Although the Grand Teton has experienced the greatest number of climbing accidents, the relative number of incidents is low when scaled for climbing activity. Interestingly, Storm Point and Symmetry Spire in the Northern Climbing area actually exhibit the greatest number of incidents when backcountry activity is taken into account. Cascade Canyon receives the greatest number of non-climbing incidents, both in actual numbers and when scaled for backcountry activity. Most fatalities in the Tetons result from unroped falls from rock that occur while ascending and descending routes. The current accident trend (1994-1996) indicates that falls on snow are the most prevalent cause of accidents, followed by falls on rock. The Grand Teton and Middle Teton experience the greatest number of climbing accidents, but when scaled for climbing activity, Storm Point and Mt. Owen experience the greatest number of accidents. Cascade Canyon has the greatest number of non­climbing accidents, but when scaled for backcountry activity, Garnet Canyon demonstrates the greatest number of accidents. Most women who experience accidents in the Tetons suffer from falls on snow, have an average age of 29.7 years, and almost always fall during the descent. Most men who experience accidents in the Tetons suffer from falls on snow and have an average age of 35.7 years. Fifty-seven percent of men who experience accidents on climbing trips fall during the descent. Two accident situations involving only men were getting stuck and falling during rappel. Most accidents are currently reported by people from other parties; however, 25% of the reports come from backcountty rangers in the field. The use of cell phones to report accidents has grown dramatically. Recently, there has been an average of 119 incidents per year involving some form of rescue response, at an average annual cost of $73,215.21.