Few new details have come out about a Teewinot Mountain tragedy that claimed the lives of two young Jackson residents, but rangers point to the accident as a reminder of the inherent danger of scrambling in steep terrain where the route finding is tricky.
Tyler Strandberg, 28, and Catherine Nix, 27, died Saturday in a 200-foot fall off a ledge that was a considerable distance from the party’s intended nontechnical route to the peak’s 12,325-foot summit. Jackson resident Rebecca Anderson, 26, survived unharmed and was helicoptered away after a five-hour wait on a cliff at about 11,700 feet.
After determining that Strandberg and Nix were dead, Jenny Lake climbing ranger GR Fletcher watched as his fellow rangers ascended toward Anderson. They climbed over fifth-class terrain that required ropes, probably going up a path similar to what Strandberg, Nix and Anderson had ascended hours earlier.
“Our guys felt like it was some challenging climbing,” Fletcher said. “They were challenged by the climbing. It wasn’t a simple ascent.”
Grand Teton National Park rangers who headed the investigation and interviewed Anderson were either on leave or in the field early this week. Consequently many details, such as exactly what triggered Strandberg and Nix’s fall, were not available.
The route Strandberg, Nix and Anderson set out for — the nontechnical, class 4.0 East Face — is the easiest path up the mountain. The party carried no ropes, like many who attempt the steep scramble.
But especially for first-timers, staying exactly on the nontechnical route up Teewinot is an iffy proposition, Jenny Lake ranger Chris Bellino said.
“The impression is they got off route,” Bellino said. “It sounds like, from the history of Teewinot, that can happen.
“Teewinot does have some route-finding challenges, and it is a place where people frequently have trouble with route finding,” he said. “There are a number of ways you can go, but there are a number of ways that can lead you astray. It’s kind of like a maze: If you choose the wrong way and continue on it, it’s going to get difficult. That’s what happened to them.”
There are fundamental differences between the accident that killed Strandberg and Nix and some of the other nonfatal search and rescue operations that have made splashes in the news in recent weeks, Bellino said.
Strandberg, Nix and Anderson lost their way, the ranger said, while parties needing rescue from the Grand Teton’s Stettner Couloir and Middle Teton’s Black Dike bit off more than they could chew.
“I don’t get the impression that these ladies picked an objective that was too hard for them,” Bellino said. “I get the impression that they got off route.”
The terrain the party had accidentally ascended without ropes suggested they were capable climbers, he said.
Calls first came in from Anderson to Teton Interagency Dispatch Center at 11:15 a.m. Saturday. She was stuck on a Teewinot ledge above the Worshipper and Idol rock towers, and had just watched her friends simultaneously fall out of sight, Teton park spokesman Andrew White told the Jackson Hole Daily.
Strandberg and Nix hadn’t answered Anderson’s “repeated attempts to yell down to her companions,” White said.
Anderson was carried off the ledge with a short-haul rope dangling from the helicopter to the Lupine Meadows Rescue Cache at 4:19 p.m.
Teewinot has proven deadly to mountaineers in recent years.
Joseph Lohr, a 24-year-old Anchorage, Alaska, resident, died last May after a 1,500-foot fall while snowboarding down Teewinot.
In July 2012, Eric Tietze, 31, of Salt Lake City, died in a fall while attempting to get around the East Prong past Teewinot on an attempt of the Cathedral Traverse.