The remains of two Montana men who died while ice climbing a frozen waterfall in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone were successfully recovered Tuesday afternoon.
The victims have been identified as Mark William Ehrich, 28, and Michael Alan Kellch, 29, of Bozeman, Montana. Both have immediate family members who live in Wyoming. The men reportedly had several years of ice and mountain climbing experience.
One victim was removed from the canyon early Tuesday afternoon. Melting ice near the rock ledge where the two men were discovered 300 feet beneath the canyon rim threatened to halt the recovery effort until Wednesday morning. However, use of a helicopter permitted the safe recovery of the second victim late Tuesday afternoon.
Friends of the two men contacted the park about 1:00 p.m. Monday afternoon, to report the pair had left Sunday for a day hike from Artist Point and had not returned. It was later discovered the two men had actually arrived in the park Saturday, and intended to ice climb Silver Cord Cascade. This series of waterfalls begins at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, northeast of Artist Point, dropping several hundred feet to the canyon floor and into the Yellowstone River.
Members of the park’s technical rescue team, the wildland fire crew, three climbing rangers from Grand Teton National Park, and a helicopter were all involved in the rescue and recovery effort.
A rescue team member rappelled into the canyon as darkness fell Monday evening, and found the two dead on a rock ledge. Initial observations of the scene and gear configuration indicate that the fall was likely due to collapse of the ice column during the men’s ascent. The accident remains under investigation.
All hiking and climbing in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is prohibited from Brink of the Upper Falls down river up to, but not including, the Silver Cord Cascade drainage. Rangers believe climbers attempt Silver Cord Cascade one to three times a year.
These are the first accident fatalities in Yellowstone since a drowning in the southwest corner of the park last September.