LANDER — The past fiscal year was the most expensive on record for rescues in Grand Teton National Park.
While the final tabulations are not in for two rescues at the end of September, the park has already exceeded its all-time high in expenses with more than $219,000, Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said.
Park staff completed 33 major searches and rescues during the fiscal year, which runs Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Twelve of those happened between October and March. A major search and rescue is anything that costs more than $500.
The number of major searches and rescues is hard to compare with previous years, because it wasn’t until a few years ago that agency assists, or when park rangers helped or performed rescues outside of the park, were included in the total numbers.
For example, in 2001 there were 32 major rescues and four assists. If those four assists were major, that year holds the record for total number of major rescues with 36.
This year, 30 of the major rescues occurred in the park and three were agency assists, Anzelmo-Sarles said.
While the total number of rescues can be hard to compare annually, the cost is easier.
This year’s minor searches and rescues, which are calculated according to the calendar year, have not been included in an estimate of the total cost. Neither have the rescues of a woman who got sick at night in Paintbrush Canyon at the end of September. That rescue probably cost just more than $500 because it happened at night, Anzelmo-Sarles said. The final rescue of the season, when Mark Wilcox lost control while glissading down a steep snowfield in Open Canyon and slid 75 feet into rocks at the bottom, also has not yet been tallied. That rescue, when officially totaled, will probably cost about $5,000, Anzelmo-Sarles said.
Before this year, the most expensive year was in 2003, when rescue costs totaled $159,000, according to park data.
The cost of rescues are not influenced as much by the volume, but by the types of rescues, Anzelmo-Sarles said. In 2007 the park performed 22 major rescues, but the cost that year was less than $22,000.
This year the park had its first rescue that cost more than $100,000. The search for Walker Kuhl of Salt Lake City and Gregory Seftick of Columbia Falls, Mont., cost $119,000. The search for the two men, who were killed by an avalanche in Garnet Canyon, took several days, involved a large number of searchers and helicopters as well as avalanche dogs.
Other than ambulance rides to St. John’s Medical Center, rescues in Grand Teton National Park are paid by the park.
“We don’t want someone to not call for rescue when they really need it because they are worried about the cost,” Anzelmo-Sarles said. “We believe [rescues are] a public service we provide.”
The park does bill for the ambulance. And rescue in Grand Teton National Park is not guaranteed. The park won’t risk the safety of its rescuers, Anzelmo-Sarles said. People need to acknowledge the risk when they head into the backcountry, she noted.