Minnesota native missing near Grand Teton

A Minnesota native and a companion have gone missing while on a trip to climb the Grand Teton.

Gregory Seftick, 31, a native of Afton, and Walter Kuhl, 31, from Columbia Falls, MT, were reported to have been seen at the mouth of Garnet Canyon at 3pm on Saturday. The party had planned to exit the backcountry on Sunday, but when Kuhl didn’t return to work on Monday, the pair was reported missing, according to the blog TetonAT.com.

The writer, who had skied the same area on Saturday, reported there were several snowslides in the area on Saturday, apparently because of warm temperatures and earlier rainfall.

Coincidentally, Seftick was a classmate of Jon Francis, who died in 2006 while climbing Grand Mogul in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. Francis’ father, who started an organization to try to get more resources deployed when adults go missing in the back country, sent out an e-mail alert this afternoon:

Greg’s father, Dan Seftick (also a supporter of the Jon Francis Foundation), called me last night and, in a quiet and fearful voice, said, “My son Greg has gone missing. Can you help me?”

As a father who knows Dan’s exact terror, my first impulse was to find my hiking boots, fly to Wyoming, and climb the mountain in search of Greg–like I did in search of my own son, Jon, five years ago this summer. I tried to reassure Dan with the knowledge that national parks have the best trained and equipped search and rescue (SAR) resources in the U.S., and the promise that I would mobilize our colleagues and supporters in the search and rescue community–the small, tight-knit, and selfless community that I have come to know and value.

I immediately left a message with Janet Wilts, a park ranger in the Grand Tetons, whose unit searched for Jon in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains in 2006 and again in 2007. I knew she was already out searching for Greg and Walter but would return my call ASAP.

While waiting for Janet’s call, I thought about the Sefticks, Dan and Sue and Greg’s younger brother, Chris, and the feelings of anxiety, powerlessness, and sorrow they were experiencing. My wife Linda and I know those feelings too well. I thought also of the unfairness. Why wasn’t the news of Greg’s disappearance reported by our local newspapers, radio, and television? After all, Greg was a native Minnesotan before moving to Montana. Why did I only learn about it from Greg’s father–three days after he went missing?

I know the answers to my own questions. I am no longer surprised (but still annoyed) at the lack of media coverage about missing adults. The founder of Project Jason, a nonprofit similar to JFF, writes, “Missing adults fall through the cracks in society’s sidewalk.” Predictably at every missing persons’ conference I attend, speakers refer to “America’s Silent Mass Disaster”–the thousands of missing adults in the U.S. who have never been found. Most were not investigated or the subject of an active search.

When Janet returned my call last night, she reported that a well-organized search effort was underway. The park service put together an operations center, coordinating multiple agencies and search units. Despite bad weather and risk of avalanche, they had flown numerous helicopter search missions and placed dozens of searchers and dogs on the lower elevations. For U.S. search and rescue, this is a world-class effort. (If only all law enforcement agencies modeled themselves after the park service.) Unfortunately, in forty states, law enforcement is not even required to report or investigate the disappearance of anyone over eighteen. Janet expressed her expectation that Greg and Walter will likely be found huddled on a rock formation or safely inside a snow tent they had built. “That’s the outcome of many searches in the Tetons.”

I passed along that hope to Dan. But, too often when adults go missing there is little hope, because we, as a society, do not focus attention or resources on finding them. The Jon Frances Foundation continues our mission to provide financial support in the form of training and equipment for those who work tirelessly to help desperate families in search of lost loved ones. SAR professionals often work with no pay and their units have slim budgets. (“They work for food”).

I ask for your thoughts and prayers for Greg, Walter, and their desperate families, as well as any financial contribution that you can put forth in this effort to bring Dan’s son home.

Both are said to be skilled skiers. Seftick is an emergency room doctor. Kuhl works for the U.S. Treasury Department.

  • http://www.IslandParkNews.com Elizabeth Laden

    We live near the Tetons and can see them from our deck. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all involved in this incident.

    I agree 100 percent that the media does not cover missing adult situations well. Same with crimes – so many murders are unsolved out here in the West.

    I have covered several stories myself even though they are not in my newspaper’s area (Island Park News) because the mainstream media neglected to do so. I have a missing person section on one of my Web sites – HenrysForkCountry.com and am familiar with Project Jason, etc. Just want you to know that people ARE aware of the problem and trying to do something about it.