Grand Teton hosts harrowing rescue

JACKSON, Wyo. – It was the sort of experience that would cause many people to swear off mountains entirely. But Steve Tyler takes a longer and larger view of life after being among 16 people removed from near the summit of 13,770-foot Grand Teton in what was described as one of the largest, most dangerous rescue operations in the history of that storied mountain.

Adventure is important, said the 67-year-old Tyler. “You miss all the important parts of life if you don’t get away from the keyboard,” he said.

Just the same, Tyler intends to re-evaluate his calculation of risk when it comes to the potential for thunderstorms. An unusually intense but predicted collision of weather systems yielded the lighting, rain and snow that killed one climber and left most of the other climbers dazed.

“They just seemed overly sedated,” said rescue helicopter pilot Matt Heart. “That might have something to do with the lightning bolts that went through them. Everybody that I saw that day had that exact same … exhausted empty glare.”

TheJackson Hole News&Guide devoted eight full tabloid-sized pages to telling the stories from the extraordinary drama that occurred July 21. Rescue officials said they took risks in the daring rescue appropriate to the potential gains.

The fury developed around noon, grew quickly in its intensity, hit the peak with at least six lightning strikes, and lasted for more than an hour, the newspaper reported. In all, 92 emergency workers collaborated in the nine-hour marathon that involved precision helicopter flying in changing storm weather, climbing through waterfalls, and the continued lightning strikes.

One of those bolts hit Tyler and his son-in-law and two other members of a climbing party. The bolt knocked down all four. Tyler, from Provo, Utah, rolled over to his son-in-law. “His eyes were rolled back and he wasn’t breathing,” Tyler told theNews&Guide. Although partly paralyzed by the lightning himself, such that he couldn’t close his hand, Tyler managed to blow air into his son-in-law’s mouth. “It must have been six breaths when he started to breathe on his own.”

Another climber, 21-year-old Matt Walker, was burned in several places by lightning. “I just remember screaming in pain,” he said. “One of the images burned in my brain is looking at my friends and seeing the anguish in their faces.”

The climber who was killed, a guard on his college basketball team, had been knocked 3,000 feet off a rock face by a lighting blast. Climbing rangers in Grand Teton National Park were investigating what may have happened, as he had appeared to be securely attached to a rope and on belay when the bolt struck.

Taking stock of the rescue, theNews&Guide urged “regular and genuine appreciation” to emergency workers from the various agencies. But, the newspaper also refused to criticize the Grand Teton climbers for being caught in harm’s way.

“Far from the shopping malls and the race for material and money, millions come to Jackson Hole every year to soak in a missing part of the human experience,” the newspaper said. “As they venture off the paved road, they willingly surrender some aspect of their safety, trading it for a communion that will enrich their souls.”


High-end buyers return to resorts

ASPEN – The high-end market has been returning to the West’s most well-heeled locations, Aspen and Jackson Hole.

In Colorado, Aspen has one of the strongest real estate markets – but only in the most rarified sector. The number of transactions through the year’s first half was up only 4 percent from last year, but the dollar volume grew 22 percent. Stated in another way, the extremely high end accounted for a disproportionate amount of the bulk.

The Estin Report found that 81 percent of sales in the second quarter for the Aspen area were for $4 million or above.

Speaking with theAspen Daily News, long-time real estate agent Bob Ritchie said that the recession had washed away most of the speculators. Today’s buyers, he said, “tend to be very well-heeled buyers, people well prepared for the downturn, and very liquid,”

he said. “When times are good all over, people are less discerning.”

The sellers? They’re in some distress. But the buyers “have no pain,” he added.

The agents consulted by theDaily News see growing strength that will translate into more activity in the lower end of the market. “People don’t like being the only ones to pull the trigger,” he said. “Confidence at the high end builds confidence below.”

Something of the same trickle-down theory was advanced in Wyoming. Jackson Hole’s David Viehman and Devon Wheeldon, of Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates, report a slowly improving market for high-end real estate but a pretty soggy bottom for the time being.

They predict a slow recovery through 2011, resulting eventually in boosted sales for the lower-end market, which in Jackson Hole is defined as $1 million and less.


Firm aids Tahoe’s search for prosperity

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A consulting firm charged with spearheading the Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity plan has identified three economic development strategies for igniting the basin’s smoldering economy: health and wellness, green building, and geotourism.

The firm, Applied Development Economics, says that geotourists are vacationers that go to a place because of geographic features as opposed to cultural, culinary, urban or other features. With green building, the consultants see the application of energy efficiency and renewable energy features to existing structures stimulating a lethargic economy.

 And as for the final category, they advocate spa and athletic events with such national cachet that Tahoe would become a destination for people who are ailing, are hoping to improve their health, or training for a marathon.

TheSierra Sun also reports the idea of trying to attract scientific researchers, something along the lines of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, or the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, but with more of an alpine orientation.


Second-homes get their own dumpster

GRAND LAKE – Town officials in Grand Lake, located at the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, have set up a dumpster where garbage can be pitched by the bag – for a fee.

TheSky Hi News explains that town officials hope the facility will answer second-home owner demand for a convenient alternative to regular trash service in the Grand Lake area. The cost is set at $4 per 40-gallon trash bag.

Town officials in Jackson, Wyo., also continue to explore a pay-as-you-throw trash program for all residents, instead of a flat-fee rate. The goal is to encourage more recycling and composting, thereby lowering landfill, hauling and collection costs.

“It basically treats trash like any other utility,” explained Kyle James, waste diversion manager for the solid waste and recycling department. “If you use more electricity, your electric bill’s going to be higher. If you use more water, you’re going to pay more.”

Officials tell theJackson Hole News&Guide that the concept has already been adopted by 7,100 communities in the United States.

Recession leads to half-baked buildings

MT. CRESTED BUTTE – The base of the Crested Butte ski area has its fair share of lone concrete foundations and building sites, the soil turned asunder and now growing noxious weeds and muddying water during rainstorms. TheCrested Butte News says town officials have been talking about how to avoid such half-baked building in future slowdowns.

“Nobody anticipated this sort of thing happening, and now we’re stuck with these,” said Gary Keiser, a councilman in Mt. Crested Butte. “Hopefully, eventually these will be viable projects again. When we get out of it, we need to think about, ‘How do we avoid these problems next time around?’ I don’t have an answer for that right now,” he said.

– Allen Best


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