SAR Technician Dave Pope during a recovery operation in the Merced River. Photo by Jack Hoeflich.

Rescue Report

Rescue of Climbers Stranded by Severe Winter Storm

October 19 to 22, 2004
Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Salathe Wall

On October 17, 2004 at about 1730 hours, Yosemite SAR (YOSAR) took a radio call from a climbing party on the Salathe Wall that they would need assistance getting off the route. This ground of two climbers was one of four separate parties on El Capitan (El Cap) that were pounded by an early season storm in which one party of two climbers died of exposure on the Nose route of El Cap. (See the Nose Fatalities Report)

The Salathe Wall Party consisted of two climbers. When initially contacted by SAR personnel earlier in the storm to see if they needed assistance, they declined. However, after four good days of climbing to Sous Le Toit Ledge they were unable to move for the next four days due to the storm. They moved from Sous Le Toit to the base of the headwall on the ninth day, but they had had no food for the previous 24 hours, had rationed food prior to that and were rationing water intake. This was taking a toll on their ability to keep climbing. Both climbers had several mishaps and took significant falls in the slick, cold conditions. They decided on the afternoon of the ninth day that they were too worn out and would need help getting off the wall.

The Salathe Party waved at the helicopter that was supporting other rescues to get the attention of its crew. The helicopter crew notified the spotters on the ground to make contact with the climbers. Ranger John Dill made contact with the climbers by using a PA system. The climbers indicated they needed help.

It was decided that SAR personnel would attemp to get a NPS radio, water and food delivered to the climbers. From aboard the park's contract helicopter 551, Ranger Dill was able to successfully deliver a haul bag of gear to the climbers. The stranded climbers contacted YOSAR using the radio and gave an assessment of their situation. YOSAR personnel told them that YOSAR would attempt to assist them off the wall on the next day.

On October 22, 2004 at about 0630 hours, YOSAR personnel assembled at the Valley SAR Cache to be briefed and prepare last minute gear. The plan was to transport personnel and gear to the top of El Cap via helicopter, hike to the top of the Salathe Wall, rig for a technical raising and lowering evolution, perform a climber pick-off of each climber accompanied by a rescuer, and then demob gear and personnel using the helicopter. The first crew shuttle of YOSAR personnel was transported to the top of El Cap around 0800 hours. Subsequent crew shuttles brought in the rest of the personnel.

Rescuers hiked into the site and were rigged for the firt lowering evolution at about 1030 hours. The attendant on both lowering and raising evolutions was YOSAR Technician B. Latham. The distance from the rim to the climbers' bivy was about 570 feet. Latham arrived at the climbers at about 1138 hours with the initial lowering taking about 70 minutes. The raise took about 20 minutes.

The next lowering evolution began at about 1235 hours and took about 19 minutes. The second raise took about 20 minutes. They belay was set up about three meters from the edge and required three bolts to build. The mainline package was placed about 350 feet above the edge on a big Jeffery Pine. A 2:1 to the anchor haul with about 8 haulers body- hauling straight down the hill was used to perform the raises of the climber and attendant on both evolutions. No one was injured during the operation.

All personnel, the two climbers and SAR gear were extracted from the top of El Cap by helicopter 551, beginning at about 1350 hours. Extractions were completed by about 1600 hours.

Read the El Capitan Rescues overall report.