9/11 Hill Climb Honors First Responders

On September 11, 2019, members of the Teton County Search and Rescue had the privilege of climbing Snow King Mountain as a way to honor first responders who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. TCSAR volunteers and Foundation staff joined the community and local agencies, such as the Jackson Police Department, Teton County Sheriff’s Office, and Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, to hike the local ski hill on a rainy evening.

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Organized by Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, the event featured ID badges with the photos and names of all 412 first responders who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. People were asked to select a badge (or three) and carry them up 1,100 feet, roughly the height of the World Trade Center. At Snow King, that meant hiking to just below the last switchback to the summit. Despite the wet conditions, more than 100 people came out to honor those who run toward danger when duty calls. Photos: Matt Hansen, Will Smith

Teton County Search and Rescue is...

What does Teton County Search and Rescue mean to you?

Community? Courage? Dependability?

That’s a difficult question, but one we asked several people this summer who had either been rescued by our all-volunteer team, or had an otherwise close relationship with SAR as a rescuer, board member, or business partner. Truth is, there is no wrong answer, as SAR means many things to many people.

For us, it all comes down to the service that we provide locals and visitors of Teton County, Wyoming, one of the world’s most outstanding backcountry recreation areas. At the end of the day, the most rewarding thing for our all-volunteer team is to help those in need in the backcountry find their way safely back to their friends and families. What that means is hard to qualify with a single word, but suffice to say it just makes us feel good.

These are just a few images we captured when someone who’s been rescued gets reunited with the person who came to their aid in the backcountry. Still photography by Morris Weintraub. Video shot and produced by Orijin Media.

"The Fine Line" Podcast Relives the Largest Rescue Effort ever on the Grand Teton

Matt Walker gets lifted to medical safety after being struck by lightning on the Grand Teton, on July 21, 2010. Photo: Bradly J. Boner/Jackson Hole Daily

Matt Walker gets lifted to medical safety after being struck by lightning on the Grand Teton, on July 21, 2010. Photo: Bradly J. Boner/Jackson Hole Daily

On July 21, 2010, a sudden and vicious lightning storm trapped 17 climbers on the Grand Teton. As 911 calls came raining down on the National Park Service, more than 90 personnel from multiple federal, state, and local agencies sprung to action. It remains the largest rescue effort ever undertaken on the 13,776-foot peak. 

As the scene unfolded, rescuers learned they were dealing with at least one fatality, and numerous climbers from three different parties who had debilitating injuries. Plus, the storm continued to rage on the mountain, pinning down helicopters and requiring a rugged ground response by the elite Jenny Lake climbing rangers and at least one Exum guide.

Nine years later, “The Fine Line” podcast dives into the rescue effort by interviewing Jenny Lake District Ranger Scott Guenther and Jenny Lake Climbing Ranger Jack McConnell along with climbers Matt Walker and Steve Tyler. Walker had been in a party of four who had been repeatedly struck by lightning just 100 feet below the summit. Tyler, who was 67 at the time, was with his two sons, Dan and Mike, son-in-law Troy Smith, and a friend, Henry Appleton, at the top of the Owen Chimney when they too sustained major lightning strikes.

Jenny Lake District Ranger Scott Guenther (front left) and Jenny Lake Climbing Ranger Jack McConnell speak with “The Fine Line” host Rebecca Huntington at KHOL studios in Jackson, Wyoming. Photo: Matt Hansen

Jenny Lake District Ranger Scott Guenther (front left) and Jenny Lake Climbing Ranger Jack McConnell speak with “The Fine Line” host Rebecca Huntington at KHOL studios in Jackson, Wyoming. Photo: Matt Hansen

“Dan was starting to ascend the rappel when a second bolt of lightning struck, and that one was by far the most intense,” Tyler told podcast host Rebecca Huntington. “That bolt of lightning knocked Dan and Troy unconscious, and I suspect Henry was momentarily unconscious, and I’m not even sure if I maintained consciousness myself. My arm was across Troy’s chest when I came to. It was sort of an out-of-body experience. My arm was there and I knew it was my arm, but I couldn’t move it. I had no control over my arm for in an instant. As some feeling started to return to that arm, I pulled it off of Troy and I crawled over on top of him. It seemed to me that he wasn’t breathing. I put my mouth over his mouth and started to blow into his mouth. That was the most terrifying moment of my life.”

For Walker, the studio interview was the first time since the accident that he’d spoken to any of the first responders who helped save his life.

“It was amazing to hear the whole thing from their side and the level of detail that they still remember,” Walker said. “So many of the little things have come and gone from my memory over the years. Everyone always said I needed to write it down but hopefully this podcast will be a great way to capture it in time. It was pretty emotional for me to go back and relive a lot of that.”

We reached out to a climber in the third party, but could not arrange an interview. Instead, Timothy Vogelaar sent us a tribute he had made for Brandon Oldenkamp, the 21-year-old climber who died after getting knocked off the mountain by a bolt of lightning.

We are thankful for everyone who gave their time to relive this harrowing event. “The Fine Line” is produced by the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation, and each month tells real stories about adventure, risk, and rescue in the Jackson Hole backcountry.

This is Episode 23 of “The Fine Line.” It will be aired on KHOL 89.1 FM on Monday, August 19, at 6 p.m., through BackcountryZero via SoundCloud, and can be downloaded on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. 





BackcountrySOS Saves Injured Hiker in the Tetons

Back in May, when Pete Nielsen was planning a trip to the Tetons, he came across a free app that could be used during an emergency in the Jackson Hole backcountry. He didn’t think he’d have to use it, but downloaded it anyway because you never know.

He ended up using it this weekend in Grand Teton National Park and may well have saved someone’s life.

The Teton Interagency Helicopter responds to an emergency request up Garnet Canyon. Photo: Pete Nielsen

The Teton Interagency Helicopter responds to an emergency request up Garnet Canyon. Photo: Pete Nielsen

The BackcountrySOS app, released in 2018 by the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation, allows someone to use their mobile device to quickly and accurately provide their status and location to 911 dispatch in case of an emergency. Nielsen found the setup to be very easy—there are no logins or accounts to set up—even for people like him who, he admits, are not tech savvy.  All you have to do is download the app and it’s ready to use. Though the user has to have cellular service, the signal requires only the bare minimum. This allows someone to use the app where there is no data service and where a signal is too weak for a voice call.

A half hour later, a helicopter came up. It was crazy, like something out of a movie.
— Pete Nielsen

This is precisely what happened with Nielsen, who works for FedEx at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. On Friday evening, August 9, he and six friends were at their campsite in upper Garnet Canyon when a woman came stumbling into camp. The woman, 28-year-old Nergui Enkhchineg from Mongolia who worked in the area, had fallen down a rocky snowfield. Nielsen said she was soaking wet, hypothermic, and could barely walk. 

“Everyone tried to call 911 but we were too far up in the canyon and couldn’t get service,” Nielsen said. “So we told a couple of hikers to call 911 once they got low enough. But I didn’t know if she was going to get through the night due to shock and hypothermia. They didn’t have a sleeping bag and didn’t even have a headlamp. The seven us put her in the tent, put some dry clothes on her, and then stuffed her in a mummy bag.”

That’s when he decided to use the BackcountrySOS app, setting in motion a swift response from emergency crews. 

“A half hour later, a helicopter came up. It was crazy, like something out of a movie,” Nielsen said. “If we had waited for those people to hike down, the helicopter never would’ve gotten there because it was getting dark. And we didn’t have enough sleeping bags for everyone.”

Using coordinates generated by BackcountrySOS, a short-haul crew located the injured party via Teton Interagency Helicopter just seven minutes before the so-called “pumpkin hour,” or the cutoff due to darkness. Responders were able to successfully extricate the patient to get the medical help she required.

Pete Nielsen, middle, used the BackcountrySOS app to help save an injured hiker in the Tetons. He credits his friends for providing immediate care to the hiker before emergency crews could arrive. Photo: Pete Nielsen

Pete Nielsen, middle, used the BackcountrySOS app to help save an injured hiker in the Tetons. He credits his friends for providing immediate care to the hiker before emergency crews could arrive. Photo: Pete Nielsen

Nielsen said he was just happy that he and his friends were able to help, and that he had found and downloaded BackcountrySOS.

You can download the app here. The app works only in Teton County of Wyoming and Idaho, and does not generate any revenue for the Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to serving Teton County residents and visitors with professional response during emergencies in the backcountry.