(Moose, Wyo.) — An out-of-state climber sustained life-threatening injuries in an apparent fall while attempting to make a solo summit of the 13,770-foot Grand Teton on Friday morning, August 8. Grand Teton National Park rangers successfully rescued Steve Markusen, 60, of Minneapolis, Minnesota from the Grand Teton; however, dense clouds and inclement weather affected the rescue operations throughout much of the afternoon and hindered a more expedient short-haul rescue mission with support by a Teton Interagency contract helicopter.
Free climbing alone—without a climbing harness, rope or helmet—Markusen had reached an elevation of 13,300 feet on the Grand Teton and was climbing midway between the Friction Pitch and V-Pitch on the upper Exum Ridge route when the accident occurred. Although Markusen was unable to recall exactly what happened, he believed he may have been struck by a rock, which caused him to fall or tumble possibly 100 feet down the steep, granite slabs strewn with loose rock that lie above the Friction Pitch. Markusen incurred extensive traumatic injuries during his ‘tumbling’ fall.
Two climbers in a separate party came upon Markusen, but did not have a cell phone to call for help. They continued to the summit of the Grand Teton, about 400 vertical feet beyond, where they located other climbers with a cell phone and called the Jenny Lake Ranger Station. In the meantime, another party of two climbers encountered Markusen and they began to provide first aid as they also placed a 911 call. The Teton Interagency Dispatch Center and Jenny Lake Rescue Cache received near simultaneous calls for help at 11:20 a.m. from these separate climbing groups.
About an hour later, while the park’s rescue operation was now underway, a third climbing party with four firefighters from Boston, Massachusetts also came upon Markusen and the two climbers who were assisting him. Two of the Boston climbers had medical training and they stayed with Markusen to provide advanced medical assistance until park rangers arrived. Due to the threat of an approaching storm, all the other climbers continued to the Grand’s summit.
Park rangers strongly advise climbers to wear helmets and carry appropriate climbing gear whenever making a summit attempt. Rangers also advise against solo climbing because of the added risk in the event of an accident.
Markusen was fortunate that other climbers discovered him promptly because he was dazed and teetering over a thousand-foot precipice. It was also fortunate that a rescue operation could be mounted to evacuate him to an area hospital because his injuries were life-threatening and the consequences of his accident could have been much worse.