Heroism is just a newspaper word. What we have in our rangers is an advanced state of professionalism.
Supervisory Park Ranger
Jenny Lake Subdistrict
Grand Teton National Park
During the summer there are 16 seasonal rangers on the crew at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. They rotate through a wide range of duties every two weeks, some days answering questions for tourists, fishermen and climbers, on others patrolling the trails, rehabilitating impacted areas and familiarizing themselves with every part of the park. They haul out litter. They advise and sometimes arrest anyone who is loud, drunk or armed. And from time to time they go up the Grand Teton and save someone's life.
In the 1985 summer season there were 20 major rescues on the mountain. (A major rescue is one that costs more than $500.) But the rescue most talked about in Jackson Hole was the last of the season, one involving the last two parties on the mountain on Sept. 11.
Party No. 1, the Findley party, consisted of Greg Findley, Nils Green and John Atthowe, all in their early 20s. Findley and Atthowe had met at a National Outdoor Leadership School course in Lander, Wyo., in 1981 and met Green that summer in Jackson Hole. They decided to climb the Grand Teton: Green would be making his final climb before getting married. Party No. 2, the Johnson party, included Paul Johnson, 40, and his climbing partner of 15 years, Ken Webb, 37. They had driven down from Seattle to climb the peak. The Johnson party signed in at the information center, as required, and on the afternoon of Sept. 10 packed up to the Moraine area, a common staging site for the one-day ascent of the Grand Teton's 13,776-foot summit.
The Findley party started later the same afternoon; they had intended to camp at the Lower Saddle but opted instead for the less windy Caves area, about two hours below.
Summer weather in the park tends to follow a repeated pattern of sunny days with afternoon thundershowers, though bad weather, with snow, can hit without warning. When the climbers who went up the mountain on Sept. 10 asked about the weather, they were told as much as anybody knew: windy, cold, a possibility of afternoon storms.
A rescue is not initiated in any national park until there is clear and obvious reason for concern. Concern for the Findley and Johnson parties began the next day.
It started to rain heavily in Jackson Hole at about 3 p.m. that day. "We couldn't see the mountain for the storm," said climbing ranger Jim Woodmencey, 27. "We knew it was bad, but we thought they'd be all right if they had their gear. It's not unusual for groups new to the mountain to take longer than they signed up for."
It was still raining hard the next morning. Woodmencey called Rod Newcomb, co-owner of the Exum Mountain Guides, to see if the tent that the park service maintained all season at the 11,600-foot Lower Saddle was still standing. It would be necessary in case of a rescue. New-comb told him that the tent was up, but more importantly he revealed that he had been on the Grand Teton himself the day before and on his descent had seen two parties on the Exum Ridge near the Friction Pitch at about 1:30 or 2:00 in the afternoon. Woodmencey knew that the Friction Pitch was high on the mountain for so late in the day.
Woodmencey and fellow ranger Renny Jackson, 33, a world-class climber, consulted, and after calling their supervisor, Pete Armington, they initiated a rescue at about 9:45 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 12. It was too windy higher on the mountain for a helicopter, so Jackson and Woodmencey marched off with their 50-pound packs toward the Grand Teton.