THE BUZZ: Teewinot claims two

By on August 25, 2015

Trio of climbers were off-route when tragedy struck

Tyler Strandberg (left), and Catherin Nix (middle), suffered a fatal fall on Teewinot  Mountain Saturday. Their surviving climbing partner Rebecca Anderson (right), called 911 from a rock ledge. (Photo: Facebook)

Tyler Strandberg (left), and Catherin Nix (middle), suffered a fatal fall on Teewinot Mountain Saturday. Their surviving climbing partner Rebecca Anderson (right), called 911 from a rock ledge. (Photo: Facebook)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Three-and-half seconds. That’s how long Tyler Strandberg and Catherine Nix had to contemplate the rest of their lives. Rebecca Anderson saw her climbing friends fall. She called to them from a ledge on the east face of Teewinot Mountain. Her voice echoed off Worshiper and Idol rock towers. Only silence followed.

Strandberg, 27, and Nix, 28, fell 200 feet. The Jenny Lake Rangers who climbed to them hours later said they likely died quickly, probably instantly. The trio was attempting to summit the 12,323-foot peak via a popular approach. They had 800 feet to go when tragedy struck. Anderson watched as Strandberg and Nix fell together. Until an investigation is concluded, it is not known what caused the two to lose their grip. Possibly a rock was loosened or one climber struck the other on her plummet to death.

What is known is that the climbing party had lost its way. They had ventured from the standard class 4.0 climb, which does not typically require the use of ropes or harness, and found themselves in a much more difficult section. According to Andrew White, Grand Teton National Park’s assistant public affairs officer, the women were attempting to get back to the correct route when Strandberg and Nix fell.

Anderson made the 911 call. It was routed through park interagency dispatch. Rangers and medical personnel scrambled immediately into action. They were airborne by early afternoon after receiving the call at 11:15 a.m. An airship short-hauled rangers to the location. As they drew nearer they feared the worst. Two bodies lay motionless on the rocks below Anderson. Rangers rappelled from the hovering helicopter and found Strandberg and Nix unresponsive. They were pronounced dead at the scene in consultation with park medical director Dr. Will Smith. Climbing rangers then began the hour-long climb to reach the shaken Anderson.

After plucking Anderson from her rock ledge and flying her to Lupine Meadows Rescue Cache at 4:19 p.m., rangers returned to prepare Strandberg and Nix for their ride off the mountain.

That would have to wait. Another call came in to dispatch. Doug Lawton, 45, of Alpine, had pulled a huge boulder loose during his hike down Avalanche Canyon just above Lake Taminah. With his leg injured badly, Lawton managed to limp a few hundred feet to an area where the rescue helicopter could be safely landed. Lawton was hauled to Lupine Meadows and later transferred to St. John’s Medical Center.

All three women were currently residing in Jackson Hole. Anderson is originally from Louisville, Ky. Strandberg was from Raleigh, N.C., and Nix hailed from Port Chester, N.Y.

The news website WyoFile reported recently that more people die in Grand Teton climbing than in any other activity. Data compiled from 1997 to 2014 showed fatalities most often occur when climbers fall unroped on non-technical ascents. None of the three women involved in the mishap on Saturday were using ropes.

Fryxell and Phil Smith made the first ascent of Teewinot on Aug. 29, 1929. The route then was much more difficult than today. In 1934, an upper portion of the mountain crumbled into the couloir blocking all attempts to summit that year but eventually making the ascent easier.

A full park investigation into the event and rescue is expected by the end of the year.  PJH

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