This past weekend, Gary Falk, 42, Exum Mountain Guide, fell to his
death while guiding four clients on Wyoming’s Grand Teton. The loss of the seasoned guide, a dedicated husband and father, has devastated the community
in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the outdoor community at large.
Kate Falk, Gary’s wife, remembers how the fusion of his passion for guiding, the outdoors and their children colored his life. “When our first child was
only three weeks old, we took him on his first camping trip … [Being outdoors] was Gary’s way of sharing love and experiences.”
His commitment to family and friends and desire for fun was integral to how he lived his life. “Gary was always trying to figure out what worked,” Kate
says. “He didn’t want to have any less family time, but loved his climbing and his work, so he was always trying to figure out that balance.”
Mary Harlan, a close family friend and part-time instructor with Aspen Alpine Guides, recalls Falk’s adventurous, child-like spirit. “He always brought
the fun-loving attitude home. He acted the same way with his children as with his clients and with everyone. He always wanted to maximize fun.
“He was the person, if you wanted to go do a big adventure, you wanted to take. You knew it would be a success,” Harlan says, adding, “Safety was of utmost
and paramount importance to him.”
"I always thought of Gary as a rock, a constant. Never really took that many pictures of him because I thought he'd always be around," Bill Grasse, Falk's
friend, colleague and photographer says.
“Gary had the ability to see and bring out the best in each individual,” Kate, wrote on a GoFundMe
page set up by others. “We all loved him because he made us feel so loved and accepted. He made us feel protected and safe so that we could shine in
our own way, be vulnerable and grow.”
According to Debbie Germann, Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman, as quoted in the Jackson Hole Daily, the accident occurred the morning of Saturday, July 23. While preparing a rappel station
on the Grand after reaching the summit with his clients, Falk leaned away from the anchor while “trying to free [a] wedged rappel device,” which he
was hauling up from below.
The device had been attached to the end of the rope by a client who had already rappelled. As Falk hauled it up, the device became wedged in a crack just
below the belay ledge.
According to new reports,
the park rangers who investigated his death believe that the water knot of his personal anchor, a tied loop of webbing, failed, and Falk fell from
Falk fell approximately 2,400 feet from the Owen-Spalding Rappel into Valhalla Canyon, near the Black Ice Couloir. Another Exum guide assisted the clients
down, and the Teton Interagency Dispatch was notified around 10:30 a.m. The Park Service recovered Falk’s body that morning via a helicopter long line.
Exum President Nat Patridge stated in a press release,
"The Teton Guiding community is devastated with this loss. Gary was a diligent guide, always the consummate professional. Exum is grieving from this
news and struggling to comprehend the situation.”
Exum Mountain Guides, a concessioner with Grand Teton National Park, has been guiding in the park for over 80 years. Cyndi Hargis, one of Exum’s owners,
told the Jackson Hole Daily the company employs between 60 and 80 guides, and on any given day in July or August could have three to four
guides with clients up on the Grand.
The Falk family split their time between Ouray, Colorado and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Falk was in his
12th year as an Exum guide, and worked year-round in the Tetons, San Juans, Southern Utah and Red Rock, Nevada, according to Exum. Throughout his career,
Falk guided high-altitude volcanoes in Mexico and Ecuador and skied several peaks including Chimborazo (20,702 feet), Cotopaxi (19,347’) and Cayambe
(18,993). He completed the Grand Traverse (10 Teton peaks) in half a day and made a 14-hour ascent of the Nose of El Capitan, Yosemite.
Falk leaves behind his wife, Kate, and two young sons, Anders, 4, and Donovan, 9 months.
The couple met in Nevada in 2007 while Falk was in the final stages of his guide training. Kate had volunteered to be a mock client. “They had a magical
connection from the get-go,” Harlan recalls. “It was no surprise they got married.”
On the memorial GoFundMe page, Kate wrote:
In the eight years I knew him, Gary strived for that balance of life—that perfect concoction of family, work, friendships, and personal pursuits.
Tweaking the recipe to find greater happiness, contentment and inspiration was a frequent conversation in our home. I know that it was a work in progress,
but at the time of his death, life was feeling pretty complete and satisfying.
To support or donate to Kate and the boys, see the GoFundMe link with more information here. To share photos
and memories of Gary, see the Gary Falk—Remembering a Life of Love and Adventure Facebook
[Editor's note: This article was updated on January 19, 2017 to include new information regarding the failed water knot of Falk's personal anchor, which upon further investigation park rangers believe led to his fall.]