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Further Unplugged: Miracle in the Tetons

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Chapter four of Jeremy Jones and Teton Gravity Research's "Further Unplugged" series finishes a two-part story about a backcountry mishap that nearly ended in tragedy. The webisode catches back up with Jones, Xavier De le Rue and ski mountaineer Jimmy Chin in Jackson, Wyoming while the crew is still reeling from an avalanche accident that, all things considered, should have killed Chin.

The avalanche occurred when the group was heading back to the trailhead after shredding the Sliver couloir in Grand Teton National Park. The route home mandated riding a sunny mid-elevation slope. When Chin dropped into the pitch he set off a massive wet slide that took him for a harrowing 2,000-foot ride before spitting him out unscathed in a debris field of rock hard snow boulders below.

Needless to say, the avalanche took the experienced crew by surprise.

"Between Jeremy, Xavier and I, we have a pretty good foundation of knowledge about moving in the mountains," said Chin. "We made our assessments and thought we were doing the right thing, but the mountains don't care if you're a pro or not. If you make a miscalculation at the wrong time in the wrong place, you're gonna go down.

"It's hard to make perfect decisions out there all the time. You do your best. I used to always judge other people's mistakes in the mountains. I think a bit differently now. Everybody's gotten away with a mistake or poor decision out there at one point or another, but sometimes it catches up to you or sometimes you're just plain unlucky."

De le Rue recalled that when he started his avalanche beacon search, he was certain that he was looking for a dead friend.

"I remember being shocked at the size of the huge field of big snow boulders and thinking that even if Jimmy hadn't been crushed to death, it would take way too long to find him and dig him out," said De le Rue. "A few seconds later, I heard him shouting and realized that miracles in the mountains do happen."

The miracle of his survival was not lost on Chin.

"Getting crushed by tons of snow and watching stands of trees blowing up in front of you as your moving down the mountain is pretty scary," said Chin. "Seeing the massive debris field and how far I'd gone, I shouldn't have lived -- but apparently, it wasn't my day to die."