A Tale: Sidford’s Fall on Grand Teton Mountain — Langford, 1872

Sidford Hamp was just 17 in 1872 when his uncle William Blackmore, fulfilled his dreams by landing him a job on the second Hayden Expedition to Yellowstone Park. Lord Blackmore was wealthy and well connected so he was able to arrange for Sidford to dine with dignitaries in Washington D.C., meet the famous Sioux Chief Red Cloud, visit Niagara Falls, and travel across America on the new transcontinental railroad.

Perhaps Sidford’s biggest adventure occurred on July 29 when he accompanied Hayden’s second in command, Captain James Stevenson, and Yellowstone first superintendent, N.P. Langford, as they mounted an effort to climb the 13,775-foot Grand Teton Peak in Wyoming. Some say Langford’s and Stevenson surmounted a side peak, not pinnacle of Grand Teton, but it was a grand adventure in any case. Here’s Langford’s description of what happen to Sidford that day.


Very soon after we commenced the ascent, we found ourselves clambering around projecting ledges of perpendicular rocks, inserting our fingers into crevices so far beyond us that we reached them with difficulty, and poising our weight upon shelves not exceeding two inches in width, jutting from the precipitous walls of gorges from fifty to three hundred feet in depth. This toilsome process, which severely tested our nerves, was occasionally interrupted by large banks of snow, which had lodged upon some of the projections or in the concavities of the mountain side—in passing over the yielding surface of which we obtained tolerable foothold, unless, as was often the case, there was a groundwork of ice beneath.

When this occurred, we found the climbing difficult and hazardous. In many places, the water from the melting snow had trickled through it, and congealed the lower surface. This, melting in turn, had worn long openings between the ice and the mountainside, from two to four feet in width, down which we could look two hundred feet or more. Great care was necessary to avoid slipping into these crevices. An occasional spur of rock or ice, connecting the ice-wall with the mountain, was all that held these patches of snow in their places. In Europe, they would have been called glaciers.

Distrustful as we all were of their permanency, we were taught, before our toil was ended, to wish there had been more of them. As a general thing, they were more easily surmounted than the bare rock precipices, though on one occasion they came near proving fatal to one of our party.

Mr. Hamp, fresh from his home in England, knew little of the properties of snow and ice, and at one of the critical points in our ascent, trusting too much to their support, slipped and fell. For a moment, his destruction seemed inevitable, but with admirable dexterity, he threw himself astride the icy ridge projecting from the mountain.

Impelled by this movement, with one leg dangling in the crevice next the mountain side, and the other sweeping the snow outside the glacier, he slid with fearful rapidity, at an angle of forty-five degrees, for the distance of fifty feet, falling headlong into a huge pile of soft snow, which prevented his descent of a thousand feet or more down the precipitous side of the mountain.

I saw him fall, and supposed he would be dashed to pieces. A moment afterwards, he crawled from the friendly snow heap and rejoined us unharmed, and we all united in a round of laughter, as thankful as it was hearty.


— Excerpt from N. P. Langford, “The Ascent of Mount Hayden,” Scribners Monthly (June 1873) 6(3):129-157.

— Illustration from the the Scribner’s article.

— You also might enjoy:

— To see more stories by this author, click on “Langford” under the “Categories” button to the left.

— You can read a  condensed version of N. P. Langford’s book, The Discovery of Yellowstone Park, in my book. Adventures in Yellowstone.

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