On Saturday, August 9, 2008, Chris Padzer of Helena, Montana, fell to his death on the south side of Gilkey Tower (12,320′), Teton Range, Wyoming. While traversing the ridge between the South Teton (12,514′) and Cloudveil Dome (12,026′), Padzer slipped on unstable snow. He fell approximately 800 feet down a steep, rocky slope before landing on a ledge on Avalanche Canyon’s north side. According to rangers who responded to the incident, the snowfield on which Padzer slipped was 30-35 degrees.
The team of four had summited the South Teton and were traversing around the south side of Gilkey Tower to make an ascent of Cloudveil Dome when Padzer slipped. Immediately after the accident, at approximately 1:15 p.m., Padzer’s three climbing partners phoned Teton Interagency Dispatch Center. Grand Teton National Park rangers launched a rescue operation, enlisting the assistance of a helicopter. From the helicopter, rangers were able to locate Padzer’s body and determine that he had died in the fall.
According to the Jackson Hole News and Guide, “Padzer was carrying an ice axe and was wearing crampons on his boots but was unable to self arrest. Padzer is estimated to have slid about 150 feet on the snow before dropping down the rock face.” The article also claims that while Padzer and another climber in the party were “less experienced,” the other two party members were in fact experienced climbers and had made previous ascents in the Tetons.
A ranger was able to reach the three surviving members of the party slightly before 5 p.m. and assisted in their descent to their camp in Garnet Canyon. Due to an impending thunderstorm on Saturday afternoon, rangers were unable to recover Padzer’s body until Sunday.
Grand Teton National Park officials have said that “these lingering snowfields have presented a challenge to people that have not had to deal with that in the past… [climbers] need to be prepared and ask at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station to get a thorough accounting of present conditions in the backcountry.” Spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs went on to say “Our rangers have told me that the snowcover is significant still, and it’s pretty sloppy because of warming temperatures. It gets pretty soft and slushy and can give easily.”