July 22, 2008

EXUM Guide Dies While Soloing

The SierraJournal (formerly has a short write-up on the death of Exum Mountain Guides employee George Gardner, 58, who died Saturday, July 19, while free soloing the Grand Teton's Lower Exum Ridge.

One quote in particular about the story caught my attention (from the Star Valley Independent):

According to investigators, it is not unusual for professional guides—either in pairs or solo—to go out for additional climbing on their own, once their clients have settled in for the night.

Are the investigators referring specifically to EMG policy, or is this considered common practice throughout the guiding community?

The article gives the impression that it was typical for guides to leave their clients alone in order to go climb technical routes (sometimes solo) at night. This may just be a case of sloppy reporting (perhaps guides in groups occasionally split up, some staying behind with clients, some going off on their own), but if there is any grain of truth to the claim, it sure seems like a terribly ill-advised practice.

I think I'll try a little follow-up of my own on this one.

What do you think? Is it ever acceptable for guides to leave clients behind to go off on their own and climb?

  1. JF says:

    First, George was one of the most amazing people you could ever hope to encounter. His approach to climbing and life in general was thoroughly reality based. It’s impossible to overstate the loss of this amazing individual.

    But to your point, George set out on an easy route he had climb numerous times. In my mind, this is not that different from from jumping on your bike for a short cruise though town without a helmet. This was his realm, He did not abandon his clients at the above suggests, but went of for the climbing version of a walk. It seems likely that strong, erratic winds may have played a role in this accident; clients were not ever in danger or at risk.

  2. I only did a quick scan of the article but I didn’t get the same impression as you. The article only says that guides commonly climb solo or in pairs when clients have settled in. I don’t see anything about them leaving clients alone.

    That was certainly not the case here – there appear to have been 2 or more guides left behind with the group – and I can’t imagine a professional guiding outfit leaving clients alone, let alone having that be a standard practice in the industry. I look forward to seeing what you dig up about this.

  3. Andy says:


    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I must say I found it alarming (usual or not) to hear that guides sometimes climb personal objectives while on-the-job, but I have gained a broader perspective on the issue after talking to a few local guides. I’ll post more on the subject, but for now, I’m hoping to hear back from EXUM to see what they have to say.

  4. Mike Gardner says:

    The Clients were in a safe hut with other guides and were never in any danger

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When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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