MOOSE, WY — On Tuesday, July 21, a large boulder dislodged and rolled over the arm of a hiker/climber, causing severe injury to his limb and prompting a helicopter-assisted rescue by Grand Teton National Park rangers.
Tucker Zibilich, 26, of Jackson, Wyoming and his partner were on their descent after making a day trek to the Upper Saddle of the Grand Teton, elevation 13,285 feet, when he was injured by the boulder. Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received an emergency call for help at 12:40 p.m. from Zibilich’s partner and several other climbers, and park rangers immediately initiated a rescue operation.
A backcountry ranger and a retired Jenny Lake Subdistrict ranger happened to be approaching the base of the headwall, just below the Lower Saddle of the Grand Teton, when the call came in. They promptly advanced to the Lower Saddle, picked up essential gear at the park’s backcountry rescue cache, and ascended another 1,200+ feet to the accident site. They reached Zibilich at 2:15 p.m., assessed his condition, and provided emergency medical care until additional park rangers could arrive.
Due to nature of Zibilich’s injury, and concern about attempting to hike him downslope over steep and rocky terrain to reach the Grand Teton’s broad and somewhat flat Lower Saddle for an aerial evacuation, a decision was made to use the Teton Interagency contract helicopter to instead short-haul Zibilich directly from his high elevation site on the Grand Teton to the Jenny Lake Rescue Cache on the valley floor.
According to the news release from the National Park Service, whenever a helicopter is used to evacuate an injured person(s) from the Teton backcountry, it is preferable to fly the patient inside the ship. Short-haul is a rescue technique where an individual is suspended below the helicopter on a 100 to 200 foot rope. This method is often used in the Teton Range where conditions make it difficult to land a helicopter because of the rugged and precipitous terrain.
To prepare Zibilich for the short-haul flight, one additional park ranger was flown to the 11,600-foot Lower Saddle. Carrying additional emergency medical gear and a short-haul evacuation suit, the ranger hiked upslope to reach the accident site—a distance of nearly one mile and 1,200 vertical feet of steep terrain. After he was placed into the evacuation suit and tethered to a short-haul line attached to the belly of the helicopter, Zibilich was flown at 5:15 p.m. suspended below the ship—and in tandem with an attending ranger—directly to the Jenny Lake Rescue Cache at Lupine Meadows, elevation 6,762 feet. He was then transferred to a waiting park ambulance and transported to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson.
It appears that Zibilich stepped on and dislodged several small boulders during his descent, which in turn loosened a large boulder and allowed it to roll over his arm. Because they were pursuing just a day hike to the Upper Saddle—and not attempting a technical climb—Zibilich and his partner did not have climbing ropes or harnesses with them. They did have helmets at the time of the incident.