Information Gathered on Recent Exum Guide Fatality

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Date: July 24, 2016
Contact: Public Affairs Office, 307.739.3393

MOOSE, WY—An investigation by Grand Teton National Park Rangers into the death of Exum Mountain Guide Gary Falk on Saturday, July 23, has revealed some information that may have led to this climbing fatality. Through personal interviews with Exum clients and employees, and others that were in the vicinity of the incident, the investigation indicates:

  • All four clients that Falk was leading successfully summited the Grand Teton on Saturday, July 23, 2016, 
  • The first client successfully rappelled down the Owen-Spalding Rappel
  • The rappel device that the first client used was to be used again, and was sent back up to Falk via rope, 
  • The rappel device got wedged on the way up,  
  • Falk unclipped his tether from the anchor to reposition himself to better access the wedged rappel device,  
  • Witness accounts could not identify alternative methods Falk used to attach himself to the mountain, and
  • It appears that Falk fell as he was trying to free the wedged rappel device. 
Park rangers will continue to investigate the fatality, and anticipate a final report in approximately 30 days.
 
History 
Saturday, July 23 
Grand Teton National Park Rangers responded to two major incidents today. At approximately 10:30 a.m. Teton Interagency Dispatch Center was notified that an individual fell in Valhalla Canyon and was believed to be seriously or fatally injured. Park rangers responded with a reconnaissance flight to survey the situation and two rangers from that flight were inserted in the area via helicopter and hiked to the scene. It was determined that the individual was deceased and a recovery effort was initiated.  

The individual was identified as Exum Mountain Guide Gary Falk. Falk was leading a group of clients to summit the Grand Teton. On the descent, Falk fell from the top of the Owen Spalding Rappel into Valhalla Canyon near the Black Ice Couloir. Falk fell approximately 2,400 feet. Falk's body was recovered via helicopter long line and Teton County Coroner declared Falk deceased Saturday afternoon. 

Another Exum guide assisted the clients with their descent. Exum Mountain Guides is a concessioner with Grand Teton National Park. 

Falk, 42, from Ouray, Colorado, has been working for Exum Mountain Guides for 12 years. He has a wife and two young sons. Exum President and co-owner Nat Patridge said, "The Teton Guiding community is devastated with this lost. Gary was a diligent guide, always the consummate professional. Exum is grieving from this news and struggling to comprehend the situation. All Exum operations will be closed Sunday, out of honor and respect for Gary. Our love goes out to Kate and their sons."  

Park rangers also responded to a rescue of a 25-year-old woman from Walker, Michigan. A call was received by Teton Interagency Dispatch Center at approximately 1:15 p.m. informing of an individual hiking in the south fork of Garnet Canyon that fell on snow and was severely injured. A short-haul rescue was used to extract her from the scene of the fall to a park ambulance that transported her to St. John's Medical Center in Jackson.

Short-haul is a rescue technique where an individual is suspended below the helicopter on a 150 to 250 foot rope. This method allows a rescuer more direct access to an injured party, and it is often used in the Teton Range where conditions make it difficult to land a helicopter in the steep and rocky terrain.

Long-line includes a 150-foot line attached to the bottom of a helicopter used to transport cargo. This technique is often used for body recovery in the Teton Range. 

—NPS— 

Last updated: July 25, 2016

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