Hitoshi Onoe, a Japanese man vacationing in Teton County, was found dead Saturday by Grand Teton National Park rangers at the base of the Black Chimney route on Teewinot Mountain.
Onoe was likely off-route, according to the map he had of the East Face, but park spokesman CJ Adams wouldn’t speculate as to whether he was lost.
The 42-year-old IT professional had been working in San Jose, California, and the Japanese consulate informed his family in Japan of the news, according to a park press release.
His cause of death hasn’t yet been determined, according to Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue, who provided the News&Guide with details about Onoe after his family was notified. Blue said that Onoe had been staying at an Airbnb in town.
The National Park Service is investigating the accident, which Adams said probably occurred Friday. Climbing rangers responded Saturday after another climber ascending Teewinot reported finding a body at the base of the Black Chimney. Rangers were notified around noon Saturday and recovered the remains with a helicopter.
Teewinot has claimed a number of lives over the years, most recently in May 2018 when a Jackson nurse appeared to have slipped and fallen on a high-angle snowfield.
Route finding up the East Face, a 5,600-foot, fourth-class climb that many people attempt without ropes because of its classification, is notoriously difficult.
“It’s very underrated,” said Jim Woodmencey, the Mountain Weather meteorologist who also worked as a Jenny Lake climbing ranger for 14 summers. “It’s real easy to get off-route there. There’s so many ledges and goat paths from people zigzagging up the East Face.”
The Black Chimney is a variation on the East Face and rated 5.6 on the Yosemite Decimal System — more difficult than the standard East Face ascent. Onoe had no climbing shoes, harness, helmet or other climbing gear with him, Adams said.
Two Jackson women died in August 2015 in the area after getting off-route and falling off a ledge.
Leigh Ortenburger and Reynold Jackson’s book “A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range” warns that “careful routefinding is essential” on the East Face.
Ortenburger and Jackson say there is a “steep rotten section” in the Black Chimney variation that “often has black ice in it.”
“At best, the Black Chimney is a treacherous place because of the rotten rock,” they wrote.
Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr said climbing Teewinot is far harder than it may appear.
“It’s so easy to underestimate it,” he said. “You’ll read the guidebooks and they’ll say it’s fourth-class climbing and, yeah, if you’re right on route it is, but it’s nearly impossible to stay right on route and that’s where people underestimate it and get into big-time trouble.”