Jenny Lake climbing rangers flew an injured Missouri teen off a popular Teton Range climbing feature Wednesday, after a slip came to a harsh end in rocks and trees.
Derek Wilcock, 18, was finishing a long rock climbing session on Symmetry Spire to the west of Jenny Lake on Tuesday night when he began descending hard-packed snow in the peak’s southwest couloir. He carried no ice ax, so he descended a “steep, exposed rock” route while his uninjured and ax-equipped climbing partner, Quincy Nolton, went down a snowfield.
The rockier route, chosen because the snow had hardened as temperatures dipped, didn’t work out.
“Wilcock lost his footing and fell approximately 30 feet, landing on rocks and trees, which prevented him from falling further,” Grand Teton Park officials said in a statement. “He suffered leg injuries, which prevented him from proceeding.”
Asked if the lack of an ice ax caused the accident, park spokeswoman Denise Germann said, “It’s always important to have the appropriate tools for your experience and the skills to know how to use them.”
Nolton, the climbing partner, phoned authorities for assistance. Because the park’s contracted Teton Interagency helicopter does not fly at night, five rangers set out on foot to respond, according to the park’s account.
The first two rangers arrived at the 10,200-foot-high accident site about 1 a.m. Wednesday with warm clothing, shelter and food for the two climbers, who hadn’t planned for a night outdoors. After first light, the helicopter touched down at the Lupine Meadows Rescue Cache to gear up and then around 9 a.m. flew Wilcock back to the rescue cache via a short-haul rope with a ranger at his side.
Wilcock was driven in an ambulance to St. John’s Medical Center. He was listed in good condition Thursday afternoon.
Although there have been summer-like conditions down low in Jackson Hole, the remnants of winter have lingered in the mountains. The snowline in the Tetons is at around 9,000 feet, Teton Park’s notice said.
“The snow at these altitudes is unusually hard this year, especially in the morning and early evening,” rangers reported. “Travelers in these areas should carry both an ice ax and crampons and know how to use them.”
Germann urged hikers and climbers to ask the experts before heading out.
“It’s always a good idea to touch base with the Jenny Lake Ranger Station,” she said.
Wilcock’s helicopter rescue Wednesday was the first major search-and-rescue operation of the busy summer season in the Tetons, Germann said.