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Grand Teton National Park rangers conducted the first short-haul rescue of the 2012 summer season late in the afternoon on Wednesday, June 6. Danielle Mendicino, 21, of Las Vegas, Nevada was attempting to summit Albright Peak (10,552 ft.) with a climbing partner when she slipped on snow and fell approximately 50 feet before coming to rest in a rocky talus field.
Park rangers were completing a day of short-haul training when Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received the call for help just before 5 p.m. Two rangers boarded a Teton Interagency contract helicopter from the training site and accompanied the pilot for a reconnaissance flight of Albright Peak and the Death Canyon area. During the initial flight, the pilot and rangers located the injured climber and determined they would land the helicopter on the summit of Albright Peak. At 5:50 p.m. one ranger exited the ship on the summit and descended about 750 feet, reaching Mendicino at 6:10 p.m.
Once on scene, the ranger stabilized Mendicino's injuries and prepared her for a short-haul extraction in an aerial evacuation suit. At 7:05 p.m. Mendicino was flown via short-haul to the historic White Grass Dude Ranch where she was met by a park ambulance just five minutes later and transported to St. John's Medical Center in Jackson, Wyoming. Mendicino's injuries prevented her from hiking out on her own. Rangers estimated that it would have likely taken 12 rangers approximately 10 hours to perform a ground evacuation over rough, steep, and difficult terrain, exposing many more rangers to the hazardous terrain.
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 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. Patients are typically flown out via short-haul with a ranger attending to them below the helicopter, as was the case for this rescue.
Mendicino was carrying an ice axe, but was unable to self-arrest. Additionally, Mendicino was not properly equipped for her intended trip; she was wearing tennis shoes, and did not have experience on snow.
Backcountry users should be in good physical condition and stick to hikes and routes that are within their ability and comfort levels. Appropriate equipment, and the knowledge of how to use it, is essential for a safe trip. Rangers remind backcountry users that variable snow conditions persist above 9,000 feet. Hikers, climbers and skiers should also note that most accidents involve slips on snow or ice, and most occur on the descent at the end of the day. Users are advised to stop in or call a visitor center or ranger station on the day of travel to obtain the most current trail, route and snow conditions.