Climber falls from Teton peak

10:13 a.m. on July 23, 2012 (EDT)
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By Richard Anderson, Jackson Hole, Wyoming July 23, 2012

From Jackson Hole Daily news:

Grand Teton National Park rangers spotted a motionless body on the north side of the Middle Teton after receiving a report that a climber had fallen from the 12,804-foot summit about midday Sunday.

Rangers saw the victim during a reconnaissance flight after he was believed to have fallen down the Northwest Couloir. The man did not respond to the rescuers’ helicopter. 

Officials had not identified the climber by press time Sunday evening.

He will remain on the mountain overnight, park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said.

Rangers were still gathering details Sunday as climbers involved worked their way off the peak in wet, sometimes violently stormy weather, Skaggs said. She provided the following details:

The victim and his two friends were presumed to have climbed the peak via the Southwest Couloir, she said. The party of three had summited and was beginning its descent when the accident occurred. The victim’s two partners seemed to have not noticed their third had fallen.

Members of a second party atop the peak began calling to them that their companion had disappeared down the Northwest Couloir, Skaggs said.

“We believe they came up the Southwest Couloir,” the most common route up the peak, Skaggs said, “but he fell down the Northwest Couloir. But that’s all still our best guess.”

Skaggs said she understood the remaining climbers looked into the couloir in an attempt to locate and, if possible, reach the fallen climber. They were unable to make contact with him.

The second party made a 911 call via cellphone, and Teton Interagency Dispatch was notified around noon, Skaggs said. Rangers flew a spotting mission and were able to see the body of a climber. They also attempted to reach him by foot, she said.

Skaggs said rangers believe he had fallen about 1,000 vertical feet and that he was “presumed severely injured or worse,” she said.

“They tried making arrangements to get rangers inserted to the location on the mountain,” Skaggs said, “but weather prevented that flight.

“As hard as it is to leave someone in a place like that, the safety of the rescuers is of paramount concern,” Skaggs said. “The decision was made to leave him there tonight and to attempt recovery [Monday] morning.”

Skaggs could not say if weather played a role in the accident. A powerful storm with rain, lightning and thunder pushed through the area in the early to mid afternoon, drenching Jackson.

She said the fallen climber was from California, but she did not know more about the other members of either party.

“They got down on their own,” Skaggs said, but as of press time they had not been debriefed by park rangers.

10:12 a.m. on July 24, 2012 (EDT)
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Re: Climber falls from Teton peak, Dead climber identified; investigation continues

The climber who fell to his death near the summit of the Middle Teton on Sunday has been identified as Justin Harold Beldin, of Victor, Idaho.

Beldin, 27, was originally from Benicia, Calif, Grand Teton National Park officials said. He fell about 1,000 feet down the mountain’s Northwest Couloir while his two climbing partners were descending the Southwest Couloir, the route they all ascended, around noon.

Beldin had already reached the summit of the 12,804-foot mountain with his partners. Because of bad weather, Grand Teton rangers were unable to reach the body until 10:30 a.m. Monday.

What caused Beldin’s fall is uncertain. Grand Teton rangers are continuing an investigation.

One of Beldin’s climbing partners, Ross Parsons, said Sunday afternoon’s heavy rains did not play a role in the incident.

“It was a fluke,” Parsons said of the fall. “A total fluke.”

“Twenty minutes after [he fell], it started downpouring,” Parsons said. “But we were taking our time, and we were being cautious and weren’t hurrying because of the rain.”

Beldin had an ice ax, park officials said, but no helmet. The Northwest Couloir is a gully filled with snow and ice.

“The group had intended to return the same way they came up,” park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said. “For whatever reason, Justin fell off the other side of the ridge, into the Northwest Couloir.”

Another group of climbers near the summit of the Middle Teton saw Beldin fall out of sight, park officials said in a statement. The climbers alerted Beldin’s companions, Parsons and Dominick Harris, who were already downclimbing the Southwest Couloir.

A storm thwarted a Teton Interagency helicopter from reaching Beldin on Sunday afternoon and evening and into Monday. A reconnaissance flight, which was able to locate Beldin before bad weather set in, determined he was probably dead.

An off-duty ranger at the Lower Saddle between the Middle and Grand Teton hiked to a high point Sunday where he could see Beldin. Due to weather, rockfall, and steep terrain, it was too dangerous for him to try to reach the victim in the couloir, park officials said.

The Middle Teton is one of the most popular climbs in the Teton Range and is often reached via the Southwest Couloir. The rock climbing section of the Northwest Couloir, the gully down which Beldin fell, is rated a 5.6 on the Yosemite Decimal System, a rating system that ranks the difficulty of climbs.

Beldin was not experienced at climbs requiring ropes, but was “an experienced navigator of mountains,” Parsons said.

He worked on Forest Service trail crews in California and took a wilderness first responder class, Parsons said. He had been in the area since April, living in Victor and working in Jackson.

A gathering to celebrate Beldin’s life is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Knotty Pine Supper Club in Victor. A memorial fund at Wells Fargo has been set up in his name.

“He was a hell of  a righteous dude,” Parsons said of his friend. “And as they say, he died doing what he loved.”

6:17 p.m. on July 25, 2012 (EDT)
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Back in the early 1980s, I had a friend die in the NW coulior of the Middle.  A year later I climbed it myself.  From the summit it's one heck of a fall down a 70 degree, ice-filled, curvy, coulior to a drop off.  I can only hope this young man was knocked senseless  before he went very far. 

10:46 a.m. on July 30, 2012 (EDT)
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And being he spent the night before they attempted to rescue him, he may have died from exposure/hypothermia?

November 28, 2014
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