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Contact: Public Affairs Office, 307-739.3431
Rangers in Grand Teton National Park rescued a 30 year-old solo hiker from the head of Open Canyon in an overnight rescue operation Friday, September 30 and Saturday, October 1. Mark Wilcox of Jackson, Wyoming was glissading down a steep snowfield when he lost control and slid about 75 feet before running into rocks at the base of the snowfield sustaining serious injuries.
Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received an emergency phone call from a member of Wilcox's family around 6 p.m. on Friday. Rangers immediately launched a rescue operation with a Teton Interagency contract helicopter. Following a reconnaissance flight of the area, rangers developed several possible rescue scenarios.
Three rangers were flown to a landing zone about 200 yards from Wilcox's location. Once on scene at 7:10 p.m. rangers provided advanced emergency medical care and prepared both the helicopter and Wilcox for a possible short-haul evacuation from the canyon Friday night. However, rangers determined they would not have enough time to safely perform the short-haul evacuation flight that night due to darkness. Instead, rangers moved Wilcox to the landing zone and stabilized him for the night. Saturday morning Wilcox was flown from the canyon inside the helicopter to the Teton Interagency Helibase where he was met by a park ambulance and transported to St. John's Medical Center in Jackson for further treatment.
Wilcox had taken the Aerial Tram up Rendezvous Mountain on Friday intending to hike to Marion Lake and then take a cross-country route to the head of Open Canyon before descending the Open Canyon Trail. On his way to re-gain trail in Open Canyon, Wilcox chose to make a glissading descent of a snowfield along the route. Wilcox did not have an ice axe or helmet and was unsuccessful at controlling his glissading descent.
Helicopters are often used to facilitate rescues in the Tetons, but they are required to stop flying 30 minutes after official sunset- known as pumpkin hour. On Friday, sunset was at 7:06 p.m. and pumpkin hour was at 7:35 p.m. Short-haul is a rescue technique where an individual is suspended below the helicopter on a 100 to 200 foot rope. This method allows a rescuer more direct and expedient access to an injured or stranded party; it is often used in the Tetons where conditions make it difficult to land a helicopter in high-elevation, steep and rocky terrain.
This marks the fourth rescue this year involving a climber or hiker who received significant injuries while glissading down a snowfield. Rangers remind backcountry users that most accidents occur as a result of slips or falls on snow or ice, often into rocky terrain. Appropriate equipment and the knowledge of how to use it are essential for a safe trip. Most backcountry accidents occur on the descent at the end of the day.