Even with the best of plans, tragedies happen. A mountain side is too steep, the terrain too rugged, one turns left instead of right, and a person can take a tumble. That’s what happened on Tuesday when two hikers veered slightly off-course on Teewinot Mountain in the Grand Teton National Park. One of them slipped and tumbled 300-feet. The tumble killed him.
According to Kurt Repanshek’s post in the National Park Traveler, the two men, Eliot Kalmbach and Jon Winiasz, both in their early twenties, hadn’t planned to do any major climbing so they weren’t wearing helmets or carrying climbing gear. They had talked to park rangers to find out where they should hike before they headed out a couple days before the accident and were following the rangers’ suggestions except that they mistakenly headed across a steeper section of Teewinot after a night of camping at Lupine Meadows. That’s where Kalmbach fell.
Fortunately, Winaisz was able to reach Kalmbach to use his cell phone to call for help. Kalmbach, however was already not breathing and didn’t have a pulse. Thankfully, the rescue of both men took less than three hours. Winaisz was lifted out within two.
This story reminds me of a similar one that happened years ago when one of my husband’s close friends fell to his death in Glacier National Park. My husband worked with this friend at the park’s Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier and remembers exactly what it was like waiting for the body to be recovered. His friend’s death is something he recalls as being one of the worst events of his life.
I can’t imagine what Winiasz is going through after what sounds like a blissful adventure with a friend turned into a trip that he’ll never forget for such a horrible reason. How very sad.
Usually I equate adventure travel with roughing it. Getting dropped off by helicopter into the wildnerness where there are no paved roads also sounds a bit risky. On the contrary on both accounts. Although heli-hiking vacations do involve helicopters and donning hiking boots for some rigorous activity, there’s no reason to forgo the niceties of pampering if you’re spending the night in the wild.
That’s what I found out when I read Joe Nocera’s first person account of his trip to Canada in the New York Times travel section. He went on a Canadian Mountain Holidays vacation that involved being dropped off on top of a mountain in the morning so he could hike all day with the rest of his group in stunning, hard to reach places before the helicopter came back for them to return them to the lodge. According to him, this experience allows for roughing it travel that is mixed with luxurious slumber in a lodge that also offers massages, wine and hors d’oeuvres. That does sound good BUT. . .
One of the things he mentioned was seeing markings left by grizzly bears, something that might be hard to see if you just hike somewhere. Harumph! The first time I hiked in Glacier National Park in Montana with my husband the spring before we got married, he pointed out two grizzly bears across a field from where we were heading to a lake he thought I should see. I wondered about the fruit in his pack. He said I ought to be more concerned about the salami in mine and all he had to worry about was out-running me. The bears were so far away they looked like small dogs and according to this personal tour guide of mine who spent the summers in college doing laundry at Many Glacier Hotel in East Glacier, we weren’t in any danger. We made it to the lake several miles from the parking lot. I still remember the mountains still capped with snow and the brilliant blue of the water. And at the end of the day, I had the satisfaction of knowing that I got there and back by using my legs to carry me. We didn’t see one person along the way. If a helicopter had shown up, though, I probably wouldn’t have turned down the ride.
One company I found that offers a smaller scale version of Nocera’s experience is Heli-Canada Adventures. You can do a heli-hike for a day if you want to picnic on top of a mountain, for example, and you just don’t want to walk there.