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A climber fell to his death on the Middle Teton in Grand Teton National Park on Sunday, July 22, 2012. 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.
A member of the climbing party that witnessed Beldin's fall called the Jenny Lake Ranger Station directly by cell phone at 12:09 p.m. to notify park rangers of the incident. Rangers immediately began to mobilize a response, and summoned a Teton Interagency contract helicopter to conduct an aerial reconnaissance flight in order to ascertain Beldin's location on the Middle Teton. Rangers saw Beldin during that over flight and determined that he likely suffered fatal injuries in a fall of approximately 1,000 feet.
An approaching thunderstorm forced the ship to land and wait for better weather. Unfortunately the storm worsened, causing rangers to postpone their attempt to reach Beldin. An off-duty ranger at the Lower Saddle hiked to a high point where he could view Beldin. Due to weather conditions, rock fall, and the nature of the terrain, it was unsafe for him to attempt to reach the victim in the couloir.
Rangers made preparations to reach Beldin's body on Monday morning when favorable weather and more stable environmental conditions might allow rescue personnel to safely access the steep and loose-rock terrain of the Northwest Couloir.
Heavy fog delayed an aerial recovery operation on Monday morning. However about 10:30 a.m., four rangers were inserted by helicopter to the landing zone at the Lower Saddle of the Grand Teton. They climbed to where Beldin came to rest after his fall and prepared his body for evacuation from the peak. Beldin's body was turned over to the Teton County coroner at 2 p.m. on Monday, July 23.
Although originally from California, Beldin had been living in Victor, Idaho since April and working in Jackson, Wyoming. He only recently teamed up with his two companions to make the climb. One of his partners had been acquainted with him since April; the other climber only met him on Sunday morning.
Beldin carried an ice axe with him on the climb; however, he was not wearing a helmet.
The Middle Teton is one of the most popular climbs in the Teton Range and is often reached via the Southwest Couloir. The rock climbing section of the Northwest Couloir is rated a 5.6 on the Yosemite Decimal System-a set of numeric ratings describing the difficulty of climbs. There is also a snow and ice section of the couloir that is rated a 3 on the Alpine Ice numeric rating scale.
This marks the fourth fatality in the Teton Range this year. Earlier, two backcountry skiers were killed in an avalanche on Ranger Peak on March 7, and a climber fell to his death on Teewinot on July 12.