Dead climber identified; investigation continues
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
July 24, 2012
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.”