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Home National & State Parks Other NPs Series of Climber Deaths at National Parks Prompt Call for Caution, Awareness

Series of Climber Deaths at National Parks Prompt Call for Caution, Awareness

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An unrelated series of recent climber deaths at National Parks in the West have spurred a call for increased caution and better preparedness.

"Many of our parks are remote and wild places, and that's one of our missions - to keep them that way," said Billy Shott, regional chief ranger for the Intermountain Region of the National Park Service. "So when you go, we want you to be aware of all the risks and hazards in summer - steep and rugged terrain, fast-moving streams, dynamic weather changes and wildfire, to name just a few."

rcr_shottShott's comments followed a call to the National Park Service by OldWestNewWest.com Travel and History Magazine asking about the recent deaths and rescue efforts.

The latest fatal accident happened July 22, 2012 when a climber fell to his death on the Middle Teton in Grand Teton National Park.

Justin Harold Beldin, age 27 of Benicia, California and two climbing partners had summited the 12,804-foot mountain and were beginning to descend the peak about noon when the accident occurred.

Another group of climbers near the summit of the Middle Teton saw Beldin fall from sight toward the Northwest Couloir side of the ridge that separates it from the Southwest Couloir.

They hailed Beldin's companions-who were already working their way down from the summit via the Southwest Couloir-to alert them of the situation. Beldin's climbing partners did not witness the accident, but upon hearing of his fall, they tried to catch sight of him down the Northwest Couloir. They yelled out his name in hopes of getting a response, but received no answer in return.

On July 13, 2012 Grand Teton National Park rangers located the body of Eric Tietze, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah about 3:30 p.m. after a daylong search of the central Teton peaks by ground and air.

Tietze and three climbing partners were attempting to complete a climb of the Cathedral Traverse on Thursday, July 12, when he separated from his group and moved ahead of them on the route. Tietze apparently fell about 500-600 feet to his death shortly after leaving his friends. Tietze, a long-time Bridger-Teton National Forest employee, has worked 10 seasons on the Forest's trail crew.

Tietze separated from his partners as they were completing the final rappels off of a shoulder peak west of Teewinot Mountain. The last time Tietze's party saw him was about 10:30 a.m.

Then on July 12, 2012 at Rocky Mountain National Park , dispatch workers received a cell phone call reporting a 47-year-old male from Castle Rock, Colorado, had slid approximately 100 feet down Andrews Glacier landing in rocks. He was not moving.

A park trail crew was in the area and reached the man's body at 3:35 p.m. The man was descending the glacier with friends when the incident occurred. Andrews Glacier is above Loch Vale in the Glacier Gorge area of the park. It is roughly 5 miles from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead.

The victim's body was flown to a helispot in Glacier Basin Campground at 6:15 p.m. His body was then transferred to the Larimer County Coroner. The man's name will be released after next-of-kin are notified.

One of the reasons for the increase in climber deaths may be due to the increased number of people who go to parks during the summer. But weather also may be a factor.

middletetonEven though it is the middle of summer, some of the more mountainous national parks in the West may still have snow, ice and rushing water at higher elevations. At the same time, temperatures can change dramatically in both the mountains and the desert.

In every case, Shott's message is: Be prepared.

"We at the Park Service provide many important services to help keep visitors safe, from emergency medical aid and search-and-rescue teams to law enforcement and firefighting. But remember that the first person responsible for your safety is yourself," said Shott, whose eight-state region in the heart of the West has 91 parks, monuments and other sites, including some of America's wildest and most famous: Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands and more.

"If you are going to hike or camp in a national park's more remote wilderness, be sure you check in at the backcountry station first," Shott added. "There you can get fully briefed by the rangers on current conditions, hazards and precautions. And make sure people know where you are going, and when you plan to return."

What about hiking alone in the wild? Shott had a ready answer.

"We think it's always a great idea to share those experiences with someone else, for everyone's safety," he said. "But we understand that a solitary or solo hike is another kind type of wilderness experience that some people are after, too. If that's the case, please take extra precautions. But in every case, it's a great idea to make a plan and think it through before you go."

 
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