On Tuesday afternoon, June 9, Grand Teton National Park rangers conducted a rescue operation via helicopter for an injured climber who fell on a wet, rock slab just above the Meadows area of Garnet Canyon in the heart of the Teton Range. Charlie Emerson, 31, of Marietta, Georgia was solo climbing a 4th class rated rock slab when he slipped and slid approximately 150-200 feet before coming to rest in a snowfield at the base of the rock feature. Emerson was not wearing a helmet at the time of his fall.
Two Grand Teton employees—conducting a research project in Garnet Canyon—witnessed Emerson’s sliding fall and immediately began hiking to his location. These park employees are certified as emergency medical technicians, and they were able to effectively assess Emerson and provide emergency medical care until park rangers could arrive by helicopter. A separate backcountry party also reached Emerson and placed an emergency call for help via cell phone. That call was received by Teton Interagency Dispatch Center at 12:30 p.m. Because wet, snow sloughs were shedding off areas above the accident site, the responding park researchers carefully moved Emerson to a more secure area, out of harm’s way.
Park rangers happened to be conducting early season training at the Teton Interagency Helibase located at the Jackson Hole Airport. Their preseason training included a Helicopter Express ship that just came under contract with Grand Teton and Bridger-Teton National Forest to support firefighting and search and rescue operations during the 2015 season.That helicopter flew from the helibase to the Jenny Lake rescue cache located near the base of the Teton peaks at Lupine Meadows and picked up two rangers for transport to Garnet Canyon. After the ship landed on a snow-covered area near the accident site, the two rangers traversed about 200 yards to reach Emerson and place him in a rescue litter. They carried Emerson back to the helispot, and placed him inside the ship for a quick flight to the Jenny Lake rescue cache. Emerson was then transferred into a waiting park ambulance and transported to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson for further care of his multiple injuries.
Emerson did not receive a head injury, which was lucky given the fact that he was not wearing a helmet, and he was crossing wet and likely slippery rock slabs. While rock features in Garnet Canyon can be easy to ascend, they are often more difficult to descend. As these rock slabs melt out, they can be covered with slippery silt or sand, which makes good traction more challenging.
Rangers remind backcountry users to know their skills and limitations and to not exceed their abilities in questionable conditions, such as rock slabs with wet surfaces or areas experiencing snow sloughs and/or wet slab avalanches. Rangers also recommend that climbers wear a helmet whenever they are attempting to ascend or descend a cliff area or rock face. Helmets are a sensible choice even when climbers are scaling what they perceive to be a relatively easy route.