RESCUES by YEAR
09-10-13 INJURED CLIMBERS RESCUED FROM EL CAPITANAbove: YOSAR and Yosemite Helitack members arriving at the summit of El Capitan.
On Tuesday morning, September 10, 2013, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a 911-call from a climber on El Capitan. The caller stated that a party of three climbers was on the 21st pitch of the Nose (just below the Great Roof) when the leader fell over 50 feet and struck his belayer. With initial reports of a possible open arm fracture and head injury, rangers began preparing for a technical rescue on top of El Capitan.
Helicopter 551, Yosemite's fire and rescue helicopter, flew a team of 14 YOSAR members to the top of the Nose, where they rigged a rope rescue system and lowered two rangers approximately 1000 feet down to the injured climbers. Meanwhile, an afternoon thunderstorm approached from the east end of the Yosemite Valley. High winds complicated lowering operations and communication between teams was challenging, but the injured lead climber was successfully packaged in a litter and lowered, along with one ranger, to the base of El Capitan, where he received medical care.Above: Lowering operations on the summit of El Capitan.
Once the first rescuer and injured climber reached the ground, the team at the summit of El Capitan pulled the ends of the ropes back up to the second rescuer still on the wall. The team then lowered the second rescuer, the injured belayer, and the third climber to the ground. Rescuers and climbers fought erratic wind gusts as they were being lowered down the 3000-foot rock face, but made it to the base before the rainstorm arrived. The team at the summit waited for the storm to pass before pulling up the ropes and demobilizing. However, smoke from the nearby Rim Fire precluded helicopter operations after 7 pm and several YOSAR team members were forced to bivouac overnight on top of El Capitan.
Rescuers later learned the following about the accident: the leader, age 43, weighted a piece of protection, which then pulled from the rock and caused him to fall. His last several pieces of protection also ripped out of the rock, but a bolt above the anchor (and an attentive belayer) arrested his fall of approximately 65 feet. He sustained rope burns, bruised ribs, and a deep muscle laceration to his arm from a carabiner. His belayer, age 37, suffered a circumferential rope burn to his wrist. The two were treated at the Yosemite Medical Clinic and released that evening. The climbers reported that between the three of them, they have nearly seventy years of climbing experience.
Rescue photos: Cheyne Lempe / NPS
08-31-2013 STRANDED HIKER RESCUED FROM NEAR WASHINGTON COLUMN
Yosemite Search and Rescue evacuated a hiker from the gully next to Washington Column on 7/16/2013 after two search and rescue (SAR) siters located and then spent the night with the hiker. The hiker had strayed from the trail into steep terrain, and then stopped hiking when it got dark (he didn't have a flashlight) because he couldn't proceed safely. Two additional SAR siters joined the team the following morning with more supplies, and the entire group hiked out on the Porcupine Rim Trail.
08-20-13 TWO HELICOPTER RESCUES
Last week Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) conducted two separate helicopter evacuations from the park’s wilderness. On August 13, a 70-year-old female sustained injuries after falling from a mule near Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. Two Tuolumne Meadows YOSAR team members hiked to her location and remained on scene until the following morning, when she was flown to definitive care by helicopter.
The second incident occurred on August 15 near Miller Lake when a 64-year-old female called 911 on a personal satellite phone to request assistance for a back injury. A wilderness ranger hiked to the subject’s location, arriving shortly before she was evacuated by helicopter. Both rescues were conducted by Helicopter 552, which is based out of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. When Yosemite’s primary helicopter is unavailable due to fire attack commitments, YOSAR relies on mutual aid from other helicopters with similar rescue capabilities, such as those staffed by California Highway Patrol or Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
08-19-13 HEAT STROKE ON A HOT SUMMER DAY
On Monday afternoon, August 19, 2013, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a 911 call from a hiker on the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail. The caller stated that his brother, a 62 year-old male, had collapsed on the trail below Columbia Rock (approximately one mile from the trailhead). It was a warm, sunny day, with high temperatures predicted at 95°F. The two had been hiking since 6:30am and were returning to the Valley from the top of Yosemite Falls when the subject became dizzy, short of breath, and unable to walk or speak. Yosemite Search & Rescue (YOSAR) dispatched a hasty team—a paramedic and two other team members—to gain further information and provide medical care.
While the hasty team hiked up the trail, the 911-caller reported that his brother's condition was deteriorating. He had become unconscious, had a rapid pulse, and was no longer sweating. Park rangers quickly organized a carryout team. Once the initial team arrived on scene they found the hiker lying on his back and shaking uncontrollably, with hot, dry skin and a body temperature exceeding 104°F. Rescuers realized he was in critical condition and began cooling him down with IV fluids and cold packs. He appeared to be suffering from heat stroke.
The carryout team carried the hiker down to the trailhead in a wheeled litter and, because of his serious condition, decided to evacuate him to a hospital by a medical helicopter. However, when the helicopter landed in Ahwahnee Meadow, the pilot determined that they could not take off with the additional weight of the patient due to a situation known in aviation as "hot and high." Hot temperatures combined with high elevation results in air that is less dense: essentially, there are not enough molecules for the helicopter's rotors to "push" against while lifting from the ground. As a result, an ambulance transported the patient and helicopter crewmembers to a lower-elevation landing zone in El Portal (15 miles away), where the helicopter met them and safely took off with the weight of everyone on board. The subject was flown to an area hospital, diagnosed with exertional heat stroke, and discharged several days later. He is expected to make a full recovery.
Heat illnesses occur regularly in Yosemite National Park during warm weather, but most cases result in heat exhaustion, which can generally be treated with fluids, salty snacks, and rest in a cooler location. Heat stroke, however, is a less common but life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical intervention. The two most reliable indicators of the condition are high body temperature (usually over 104°F, though this varies) and altered level of consciousness, but other classic symptoms include nausea, rapid heart rate, hot and red skin, lack of sweat, and seizures. Without treatment, a person suffering from heat stroke will quickly go into shock, suffer multi-organ failure, and die.
Could this emergency have been prevented? The hiker tried to do everything right: he drank water, brought plenty of snacks, wore a hat, and took breaks every 30 minutes in the shade. He started hiking up the trail early in the morning, completing most of the trip before the hottest part of the day. By the time he became ill, he was hiking downhill on a more shaded portion of the trail. So what went wrong? Rescuers learned that he was taking a medication that made him more prone to heat illness, and that medicine combined with any existing dehydration could have caused his body to drastically overheat. "The first thing that comes to mind," he said a few weeks later, "is that I probably should have brought more than two liters of water, and should have made myself drink more at times when I wasn't at all thirsty."
08-13-13 ROYAL ARCHES CLIMBERS NEED ASSISTANCE RETURNING TO YOSEMITE VALLEY
Near dusk on August 13, 2013, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a report of two climbers requesting assistance near the top of North Dome Gully. Park rangers made phone contact with the party, who denied injury but was nearly out of water after ascending the Royal Arches climbing route that day. The climbers were also experiencing route-finding difficulties in the gully and felt they could no longer descend. Rangers asked the two to bivouac in a safe location until the following morning, when two Valley search and rescue team members hiked to their location, provided them with water, and guided them down the descent route without incident.
Royal Arches is one of many classic rock climbs in Yosemite Valley, but it presents significant challenges that can force climbers to spend an unexpected night on top or even require rescue. Though only of moderate difficulty (5.7 A0 or 5.10b), the route rises over 1,400 feet, is often crowded, and usually requires several hours to descend. If things do not go as planned, climbers may top out much later than expected, leaving them to rappel or hike down in the dark. North Dome Gully, one of the descent routes for Royal Arches, is notorious for its exposure, loose rock, and difficult route-finding. Darkness compounds all these challenges.
08-04-13 LOST AND UNPREPARED IN TENAYA CANYON
On Sunday, June 30, 2013, at 11 am, the leader of a climbing club staying at Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley contacted the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center, reporting that two members of his club were overdue. The two hiker-climbers, one male and one female, had started their journey on Saturday, June 29, with the intention of hiking, scrambling, and down-climbing through Tenaya Canyon to Yosemite Valley in one day. The male hiker-climber had prior climbing experience. The two hiker-climbers did not intend to rappel, so they didn't pack a rope. When they arrived at the first of four rappel stations, they discovered they, in fact, couldn't safely scramble down the canyon route. They decided instead to scramble away from the rappel station, up the northwest canyon wall, and traversed along the northwest side of the canyon along a bench, then eventually descended back down a shallow gully through second-class terrain (relatively easy scrambling); they more or less paralleled Tenaya Creek, which was far below them. They stopped when they became ledged out (stranded), and spent the night in what had become fifth class terrain (terrain usually associated with technical rock climbing).
By the time Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) became involved the following morning, the two individuals were stranded in separate locations, about 500 feet apart (red "X" marks the location of the female, yellow "X" the male).
At some point either later on the first day or on the morning of the second day, the male hiker-climber had decided to continue west, ascending a low-fifth-class granite slab, scouting for a possible route out of the canyon. He reached a point where there was no possible route down, and no way to return the way he had come. The pair had one cell phone between them, and the female hiker-climber, who didn't speak English, had kept the cell phone with her, which introduced a language barrier to the situation. The climbing club leader translated between the incident commander and the stranded female hiker-climber; the leader repeatedly insisted to the incident commander that both overdue parties were stranded next to a rappel anchor, near a waterfall, definitely in the depths of Tenaya Canyon, when in fact they were stranded well above Tenaya Canyon, on a slope of Mount Watkins.
Going on the location information provided by the club leader, two Tuolumne Meadows SAR team members headed down Tenaya Canyon, searching for the missing hiker-climbers. The two searchers descended all four rappels but were unable to locate them. When the two SAR members were unsuccessful in locating the missing parties, the incident commander asked the climbing club leader to again call the hiker-climbers' cell phone and to again instruct them to yell, in the hopes that the searchers would be able to hear their shouts. As luck would have it, other members of the Tuolumne Meadows SAR team had chosen to spend their day off (Sunday) journeying down Tenaya Canyon, initially having no idea that a search was underway. The two original searchers met up with the other members of their SAR team, and they all listened for shouts. The group heard faint cries but could not pinpoint the location. The off-duty SAR team members decided to continue down Tenaya Canyon, as planned, and in doing so reached a location where they heard, and then saw, the hiker-climbers at approximately 6 p.m. The two original searchers then scrambled up the northwest canyon wall in the direction of the hiker-climbers, with the intention of hiking them out if possible. Because of the faulty information the incident commander was given in the morning about the location of the overdue hiker-climbers, the two searchers were equipped only for rappelling through the canyon, and not for climbing. Without proper climbing gear, the searchers' progress toward the stranded parties was hampered, and daylight was waning. The incident command team decided that a rescue by helicopter was in order.
With dusk fast approaching, Yosemite Helitak prepared the park helicopter, Helicopter 551, for a mission to rescue the stranded parties, while two park rangers in Yosemite Valley suited up to be short-hauled to the hiker-climbers' locations. At approximately 7:30 pm, Helicopter 551 short-hauled the two rangers to the location of the female hiker-climber. From there, one ranger climbed, with the other belaying him, to the stranded male hiker-climber. By 8:20 pm, the rescue mission was complete, with both the hiker-climbers and the two rangers safely back on the ground at Ahwahnee Meadow in Yosemite Valley. The overdue hiker-climbers were dehydrated and exhausted, and were completely out of water.
06-26-13 INDIAN CANYON FALL AND RESCUE
On Friday, July 26, at 8:45 a.m., the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center (ECC) received a 911 call from a hiker in the area of Indian Canyon (a narrow side canyon in Yosemite Valley). The caller reported that his friend, a 20 year-old female hiker, had fallen while scrambling off-trail up a steep slope, and had a serious wound on her right forearm. The pair of hikers intended to hike up Indian Canyon on an unofficial social trail, but, without realizing it, turned right (east) into a drainage that was one drainage too early. As they were scrambling up the drainage, the subject came to a boulder about the size of a person; she tested it with one foot and it seemed stable, but when she stepped up onto the rock with her full body weight, her foot slipped forward, and the rock suddenly became loose and slipped out from under her. The subject fell backward, sliding down the steep slope on her back, head-first; she reports that the only thought on her mind was the possibility of the loose boulder rolling over her. Luckily, the boulder rolled off to one side and didn't strike her. At some point while she was sliding downhill, the subject's head hit something, and then eventually her downhill momentum slowed and she came to a stop. The subject remembers feeling relieved that the loose boulder missed her, and was catching her breath when she looked at the underside of her right forearm and noticed a deep and wide gash, extending almost the entire length of her forearm.
When the 911 call was received at the Yosemite ECC, three search and rescue (SAR) team members set out to find the injured subject and her hiking companion. They proceeded up the actual Indian Canyon social trail, since that was the location given to the Yosemite ECC by the reporting party. The SAR team members hiked far past the drainage the injured hiker was in (the Yosemite ECC had attempted to determine the hikers' precise location from their cell phone call, without success). At 10:30 a.m., a visitor who was at the mouth of Indian Canyon happened to hear cries for help and reported the shouts to the closest public building, the Yosemite Medical Clinic. The incident commander for the search sent two more searchers, one of whom is a visiting physician at the clinic, up the canyon. These two searchers found the injured subject and her friend, and shortly after, the first search team, hiking back down the canyon, also arrived on scene. The whole group hiked straight down to the back door of the clinic for much-needed medical attention. In the end, the subject's forearm wound required 27 stitches (see photo below); additionally, the injured subject received 5 staples on the crown of her head, 1 stitch on a separate forearm wound, and Dermabond to close a laceration on her forehead.
The hiker who called 911 reported that he stayed with his injured friend for about 40 minutes after making the call, but when he didn't hear any shouts or whistles from searchers, he became concerned that maybe he and his friend were, in fact, off route and that the searchers would not find them. The hiker didn't want to leave his friend, but decided he needed to scramble up higher where his shouts would travel farther, a decision which proved key for locating the pair of hikers.
06-6-13 OPEN ANKLE FRACTURE AT BRIDALVEIL FALL
On Saturday, July 6, at 3:30 p.m., the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center (ECC) received a 911 call reporting a subject with a leg injury near the base of Bridalveil Fall. Over the next several minutes, the ECC received further details that the injury was possibly an open ankle fracture.
The subject, a 48 year-old male, along with his nine-year-old son, had hiked to the viewing platform below Bridalveil Fall. The pair then left the established trail to scramble up the boulder field toward the base of the waterfall (left), bypassing signs that advise against leaving the trail. Although the boulders were dry, they were still extremely slick; over the years, the boulders have been polished smooth by water from Bridalveil Fall (even rescuers that day, wearing approach shoes with sticky rubber soles, had trouble with their footing). The subject and his son made it to the base of Bridalveil Fall, which is approximately one-eighth of a mile, with a 200-foot elevation gain, above the viewing platform. There they took pictures with another father-son pair they had met along the way. When they all turned to head back down, the subject was immediately concerned about his son slipping and falling on the rocks; the subject explains, "I was trying to get ahead of my son and map out the best course to take. That way I thought if my son lost his footing, I'd be able to stop his fall." At one point, the subject had to scoot across a large boulder to reach his son; all of a sudden "my foot caught, I started sliding and then tumbling down the rock, and then I fell over the edge...I thought I might die." The subject took a 15- to 20-foot fall, landing on his back on a boulder below (the subject already suffered from chronic lower back pain and had two implanted neurostimulators). The subject, referring to his pain level, recounts "on a scale of one to ten, I was at a 38." The other father-son pair, along with the subject's son, scrambled down to the subject; soon other bystanders arrived to offer assistance.
Within 20 minutes, emergency responders arrived on scene and found the subject lying where he had landed, below the large boulder. The subject did, in fact, suffer an open (compound) fracture to his right ankle. Both stabilizing the traumatic ankle injury and managing the subject's off-the-charts pain proved challenging to the emergency responders; even with pain medications, the subject was almost constantly writhing and screaming in pain. The response team maintained spine immobilization by packaging the subject into a vacuum body split. Rescuers then loaded the subject into a wheeled litter and, with low-angle rescue gear in place, began descending through the boulder field. Progress was slow due to tricky footy for the rescue team and the subject's pain levels; after about 15 minutes, the team leader ordered the team to stop and advised the incident commander that a short-haul operation would be required. Yosemite Helitak, using the park helicopter (Helicopter 551), extracted the subject by short-haul from the Bridalveil Fall boulder field and flew him to El Capitan Meadow. At El Capitan Meadow, the subject was transferred to an awaiting air ambulance helicopter, who flew the subject out of the park, to a hospital in Modesto, CA.
Four weeks after the incident, the subject is still in a wheelchair and unable to bear any weight on his right foot, but his wife reports that he is "recovering slowly." He stayed in the hospital for nearly two weeks after his fall, and went through two surgeries on his ankle. A few days into the subject's hospital stay, doctors discovered that his right wrist was also fractured, so his right arm is in a cast. The subject acknowledges that his accident could have been even worse, and is grateful for the kindness of bystanders: one visitor literally took the shirt off his back and the hat off his head to offer the subject relief from the penetrating summer sun. The father-son pair whom the subject had befriended earlier stayed by the subject's side, offering prayers and comfort and looking after the subject's son until rangers and members of Yosemite Search and Rescue took the nine year-old into their care.