Climber dies in fall
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
August 11, 2008
A Montana climber fell and died while traversing the ridge between the South Teton and Cloudveil Dome in Grand Teton National Park with three companions on Saturday afternoon.
Chris Pazder, of Helena, slipped on snow while crossing the south side of Gilkey Tower — elevation 12,320 feet — and tumbled about 800 feet over steep rock before landing on a ledge on the north side of Avalanche Canyon.
Grand Teton National Park rangers were notified of the accident at approximately 1:15 p.m. on Saturday, when Pazder’s companions used a cell phone to call Teton Interagency Dispatch Center. Rangers immediately organized a rescue operation and requested an interagency contract helicopter for air support. The helicopter flew to Lupine Meadows, picked up several rangers, and undertook an aerial reconnaissance flight. Pazder was located from the air, and rangers were able to determine, due to the severity of the fall and the position of his body, that he was deceased.
Rangers who responded to the accident said the snow field was on a 30- to 35-degree slope. Pazder was carrying an ice axe and was wearing crampons on his boots but was unable to self-arrest. Pazder is estimated to have slid about 150 feet on the snow before dropping down the rock face.
“One of the things we thought might be a problem this winter was significant snow in the backcountry staying into the summer,” said Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs. “These lingering snowfields have presented a challenge to people that have not had to deal with that in the past.”
The group had already summited the South Teton and was on its way to attempt an ascent of Cloudveil Dome. Park officials said two members of the group had extensive climbing experience, including ascents in the Tetons. Pazder and another member were described as less experienced but both had climbed before.
A ranger who was on routine mountain patrol in Garnet Canyon reached the three members of Pazder’s party just before 5:00 p.m. and helped them descend to their camp in the South Fork of Garnet Canyon. They were able to hike out of Garnet Canyon on Sunday morning.
Because of an incoming thunderstorm and the time of day, rangers decided to wait until Sunday to attempt to recover Pazder.
Rangers began their recovery operation at about 7:00 on Sunday morning by flying six rangers to a landing zone near Lake Taminah in Avalanche Canyon.
The rescue personnel had to ascend 200 feet of technical terrain to the ledge where Pazder came to rest. The recovery operation was completed by early Sunday evening.
Skaggs stressed that those venturing into the backcountry, even just for a single-day hike, should be prepared.
“You need to be prepared and ask at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station to get a thorough accounting of present conditions in the backcountry,” she said. “These snowfields are lingering that haven’t been in place in the last few years.”