On Saturday, September 4th, park rangers found 42-year-old Hitoshi Onoe dead at the base of the climbing route, Black Chimney in Grand Teton National Park. Before proceeding to the rockface, rangers received a call from another climber ascending Teewinot Mountain who saw the deceased man.
Onoe was a Japanese national and worked in San Jose, California. Rangers believe that Onoe was trying to locate the East Face route as he circled the path on his map. According to the park’s official press release, it is particularly hard to decipher routes in that area. Since recovering Onoe’s remains, the park has opened an investigation on the Grand Tetons climber’s death and notified his next of kin.
The East Face is a 5,600-foot fourth-class climb in the Grand Tetons. Normally, Class Four climbs are relatively easy for experienced climbers and often don’t require safety gear or ropes. This is because the rockface is not completely perpendicular to the ground and offers forgiveness if the climber misses a foothold because of its slant.
The Black Chimney variation of the East Face is rated at a 5.6 on the Yosemite Decimal System, a relatively easy climb. However, 14-year climbing ranger Jim Woodmencey says the specific route the Grand Tetons climber attempted is “very underrated.”
“It’s real easy to get off-route there,” Woodmencey explained. “There’s so many ledges and goat paths from people zig-zagging up the East Face.”
Two climbers detailed the dangers of the routes in the area called A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range. In their description, they warned fellow climbers that the Black Chimney variation has a “steep rotten section.”
The authors also reported that the route “often has black ice in it.”
Climber’s Death is One of Several at Grand Teton National Park
The recent death of the Grand Tetons climber is not the first life the area has claimed. According to Jackson Hole News & Guide, in 2015, two women died after climbing off-route and falling off of a ledge. In May 2018, a nurse slipped and fell off of Teenowit Mountain while descending the East Face. These are just a few of the dozens of deaths that have occurred on or near the route in the past 60 years.
More recently, park rangers are still searching for Cian McLaughlin, who has been missing since June 8. Though this Grand Teton visitor isn’t a climber, his disappearance still speaks to the underrated dangers and conditions of the national park.
With all of the tragic accidents that have occurred in the Grand Tetons within the past few years, it seems that the most prominent threat to climbers and hikers is underestimating the environment. With hidden dangers like black ice, loose rocks and difficult navigation, there’s no such thing as overpreparing. Extra equipment and safety gear may no longer be an option when venturing to the East Face of the mountain.