Rangers recovered the body of Nick Gillespie from Berry Creek Canyon late on Monday afternoon. Foggy conditions throughout most of Monday prevented attempts to complete the mission before late afternoon. Rangers also concluded their investigation of the avalanche that took his life on Sunday afternoon. Gillespie, a long-time seasonal employee at Grand Teton, was caught in an avalanche on the southeast face of Survey Peak (elevation 9,277 feet) and died as a result of injuries suffered in the slide.
Gillespie and three companions skied into Berry Creek canyon in the northern Teton Range on Thursday, January 24th, on a multi-day backcountry ski trip. On Sunday afternoon, Gillespie and one companion skied a run on the southeast face of Survey Peak. They then returned with a third member of their party to ski a final run. During that final run, members of the group planned to ski at one-minute intervals and fan out across the treed slopes. Gillespie was the last person to ski and is believed to have triggered the avalanche that caught him. He was carried approximately 220 feet into the trees, where he was pinned and left partially buried with his head and an arm above the snow. The total slide path spanned 540 feet. The second skier encountered fresh avalanche debris, and. believing that the first skier may have triggered it, immediately began a beacon search. He also called out and heard the first skier respond from below. He skied down to the first skier and learned that she was unaware of the avalanche. He then began a search for Gillespie with his avalanche beacon and located him about 20 minutes after the accident occurred. He began CPR and was eventually joined by the two other members of the party. In total, they performed CPR for approximately 90 minutes with no success.
Due to the remote area and spotty cell service, Gillespie’s companions were not able to make an emergency call for help until late evening. Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received notice of the incident at 9 p.m. on Sunday. Because of the late hour and confirmation that Gillespie did not revive during CPR, rangers made arrangements to recover Gillespie’s companions and his body during daylight hours on Monday. The surviving party of three stayed the night in a National Park Service patrol cabin located about one mile from Survey Peak.
Four rangers were flown into Berry Creek canyon at 11 a.m. Monday and two of the skiers were flown out during the single flight. Deteriorating weather conditions halted additional flights until late afternoon when Gillespie’s body plus one of his partners and all rescue personnel were flown out of the backcountry just before nightfall.
The avalanche danger on Sunday was listed as low for mid-elevation terrain. The crown of the avalanche on Survey Peak occurred at 8,405 feet.