MOOSE, WY — A large boulder struck and seriously injured a climber during a rockfall event today, July 7, in Grand Teton National Park. Michael Polmear, 27, of Bethesda, Maryland was ascending the Middle Teton near its black dike feature when a boulder — described by his wife, Stephanie, as the size of 5-6 microwave ovens — suddenly rolled down slope toward Polmear and hit his left arm, causing severe injuries. Luckily, Polmear did not sustain additional injuries during the rockfall incident.
A previous park employee, who happened to be nearby, reported hearing the rockfall and a subsequent call for help at approximately 8:30 a.m. He immediately made his way to the rockfall site and began to help Stephanie Polmear stabilize her husband’s injured arm. He placed an emergency call to Teton Interagency Dispatch Center at 9:00 a.m. that activated a rescue response by park rangers with aerial support from a Teton Interagency contract helicopter. At the request of Grand Teton’s rescue coordinator, this first responder moved Polmear roughly 200 feet away from the accident site because of concern for additional rockfall activity.
Stephanie Polmear reported that she was belaying her husband, Michael, up the initial pitch of the Black Dike route on the Middle Teton, and he was approximately 30-35 meters above her when the boulder came crashing down the slope without warning. Fortunately, Stephanie was not hit by any of the debris during the rockfall. Although severely injured, Michael used his non-injured arm to create an anchor, and his wife was able to lower him by rope to her location.
Three park rangers were flown to a provisional helispot near the Cave Couloir at the base of the Middle Teton (approximately 600 linear feet, and 300 vertical feet from Polmear) at 10:00 a.m. Rangers provided emergency medical care, stabilized Polmear’s injured arm and helped him traverse the distance to the waiting helicopter. Polmear, accompanied by one attending ranger, was flown to the Jenny Lake Rescue Cache at Lupine Meadows where he was then transferred to a park ambulance and transported to St. John’s Medical Center. Once the helicopter cleared the mountain helispot, the other two rangers ascended from the accident site to the Lower Saddle of the Grand Teton to begin a scheduled backcountry patrol.
The cause of the sudden rockfall is undetermined. However, recent thunderstorms and a sequence of mountain showers may have loosened the boulder and nearby soils. It appears that Polmear was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when this natural event took place.