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72 HOURS OF TERROR
James Lipscomb
June 14, 1965
This is a story of tragedy and heroism, of simple folly and hallucination, of a youth paying with death for his devotion to duty. It is a story of in a national park, a terror that struck at a party of vacationers out on what they thought would be a day of small adventure, a day filled with the stimulation of doing the almost dangerous, while actually being safe. You, if you have the least bit of the intrepid in you—and who does not?—might have been there. It is a story of 10 climbers who were stranded without food or shelter on one of the highest peaks in the United States and who—with their last reserves of energy and while rescuers tried to reach them from below—struggled even farther up, instead of down. It is a story of a horrified climber going berserk in the darkness and trying to kill those who would save him. Finally, it is the story of what is probably the most technically difficult large-scale mountain rescue in American history. It happened three summers ago in Grand Teton National Park, but until this two-part series, which is based on official reports and extensive interviews with the survivors, it has been an untold tale of the Tetons .
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June 14, 1965

72 Hours Of Terror

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This is a story of tragedy and heroism, of simple folly and hallucination, of a youth paying with death for his devotion to duty. It is a story of in a national park, a terror that struck at a party of vacationers out on what they thought would be a day of small adventure, a day filled with the stimulation of doing the almost dangerous, while actually being safe. You, if you have the least bit of the intrepid in you—and who does not?—might have been there. It is a story of 10 climbers who were stranded without food or shelter on one of the highest peaks in the United States and who—with their last reserves of energy and while rescuers tried to reach them from below—struggled even farther up, instead of down. It is a story of a horrified climber going berserk in the darkness and trying to kill those who would save him. Finally, it is the story of what is probably the most technically difficult large-scale mountain rescue in American history. It happened three summers ago in Grand Teton National Park, but until this two-part series, which is based on official reports and extensive interviews with the survivors, it has been an untold tale of the Tetons .

On July 27, 1962 a cold rain was beating down at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station in Grand Teton National Park. Directly across the lake, Teewinot Mountain was hidden in clouds, which broke from time to time revealing the new snow that was falling on the rocks above the tree line. At 8 a.m. Sterling Neale, a climbing ranger, returned from an errand and stepped inside the hut. Another ranger, George Kelly, was waiting for him. "Your wife called a few minutes ago," he said. "She flipped your Volkswagen, but she's all right—and, by the way, there's a guy here says a party of 10 Appies is overdue from a climb on the Grand."

Neale was more alarmed about his wife than about the Appies, which is the slightly derogatory nickname western mountaineers have given eastern members of the Appalachian Mountain Club. It often happens that climbers are caught on the Grand Teton at nightfall and forced to bivouac. They can be expected to straggle in the following day. And certainly, Neale thought, 10 climbers could not get in trouble without at least some of them coming back down for help. Still, he had to take some action. Keeping track of climbers and rescuing them when necessary was part of his job.

Neale called the information to the district ranger station, and he and the ranger in charge decided that someone ought to go up the Grand Teton to find out what had happened. It would not be a pleasant job—a four-hour hike through the rain up into the Petzoldt's Caves area from which the 10 climbers had started. George Kelly was assigned the task. It was shortly after 8:30 a.m. when he started up the mountain.

As Sterling Neale turned his attention to his smashed car and shaken wife and Kelly plodded dutifully forth, an extraordinary series of actions was unfolding on a tiny rock ledge high up on the southeastern face of the Grand Teton—actions that would have alarmed and appalled the rangers. The 10 climbers had indeed been stranded all night. They were dressed for a summer day, but for the past 20 hours they had been buffeted by freezing rain, electrical storms and gale-driven snow. Huddled on a ledge, they peered from beneath the three ponchos that had covered them during the night and saw that three inches of new snow had fallen, hiding all the handholds and footholds in the rock. Their feet were numb, their muscles sore from hours of violent shivering. There had been almost nothing to eat the night before, breakfast was a spoonful of jam each, and now, in a swirling mist of rain and snow, with great misgivings but almost no discussion, they started moving once again—not down, but up!

Who were the climbers trapped in this ordeal? They were all members of the August Camp of the Appalachian Mountain Club, an organization offering its members scores of activities that range from one-day nature walks to extended pack trips. The August Camp is just one of these many activities. Each August for the past 75 years club members have met at various places in the U.S. and Canada for a month of hiking and outdoor living. Twice before in recent years the August Camp had met in the western U.S. or Canada to give those who were interested in mountaineering a chance to attempt some truly impressive peaks and try the rock-climbing techniques they had learned in the East.

In 1962 the August Camp met near Jenny Lake on the eastern side of the Teton Range in Wyoming. It was a marvelous choice for grandeur of view and test of climbing skill, for the Tetons are among the most impressive mountains in the U.S. Beginning just south of Yellowstone National Park and continuing in a southerly direction, the Tetons rise, one rugged peak after another. At their base evergreens and aspen surround clear, glacier-gouged lakes. Above the tree line are snow fields and glaciers, and above these are precipitous rock slabs and towering cliffs that spire into the sky.

In the center of the range stands the most spectacular mountain of them all—the Grand Teton—13,766 feet high, with half a dozen glaciers and snowfields on its flanks. It was first climbed only 67 years ago, but since then at least a dozen routes to its summit have been found and some of them are considered quite easy. Glenn Exum, who operates the professional guide concession in the Grand Teton National Park, maintains a staff that takes parties up the Grand once or twice a week during July and August, and many other climbers make the ascent on their own, aided only by detailed guidebooks. Usually climbers make it a two-day trip. The first day they go up about 10 miles (3,000 vertical feet) to the Petzoldt's Caves area in the higher levels of Garnet Canyon. By starting at 4 a.m. on the second day they can expect to reach the top by noon and get back to the caves before afternoon storms sweep in from the west and pepper the mountain with lightning.

More than 400 climbers reached the top of the Grand in 1962, about half of them escorted by professional guides. Such numbers are somewhat misleading, however, if they seem to indicate that the Grand is no challenge at all. In good weather any experienced leader can take any small group of moderately good climbers to the top of the mountain on the easier routes without subjecting them to more than minimal danger. But not all of the routes are easy, and in truly foul weather climbing the Grand can turn out to be a very dangerous matter. Three climbers have lost their lives on the Grand in the past 20 years and in 1962, even before the August Camp arrived in the Tetons, one man had been killed climbing in the area.

The leader of the climbing activities at the August Camp was Ellis Blade, 54, who had been climbing in the Tetons for a decade. Blade was a powerful and dynamic man, able in several diverse fields. Holder of a Ph.D. from Columbia, he had worked as an aeronautical engineer and designer and had taught mathematics at both Columbia and City College of New York. Blade had climbed in the Tetons with Glenn Exum and Paul Petzoldt, two of the most famous Teton figures. He had also climbed in Canada and Mexico, and had led groups for the Alpine Club of Canada as well as the Appalachian Mountain Club. He was thoroughly experienced.

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