RESCUES by YEAR
08-14-12 RAPPELLERS RESCUED FROM EL CAPITAN
On Saturday, August 4, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a request for assistance from two rappellers who had gotten off route and subsequently stuck while attempting to rappel the Nose climbing route on El Capitan (about 2900 feet vertically, with about 23 rappels). The party had hiked up the Yosemite Falls trail the day prior and camped at the top of El Capitan. The rappellers began rappelling from the summit on Saturday morning. They were equipped with figure-eight descenders, a rack of camming devices and stoppers, climbing shoes, and three ropes. One of the two rappellers had a climbing helmet.
When one rope became stuck near the top of the route, the rappellers cut it and continued rappelling with two ropes until they reached Camp V, which is about one third of the way down the Nose, just above the Great Roof. One of the rappellers began rappelling from Camp V, but when he was just above the Great Roof, he realized that he had rappelled too far to his left and that the next rappel anchor he sought was out of reach to his right. He attempted, unsuccessfully, to swing to it but also continued descending until he was hanging free, at the end of his ropes, about five feet below the lip of the Great Roof.
The partner at the Camp V anchor above was unable to assist in any way, so he called 911 to request help. The rappellers had family band radios, so a YOSAR team member with a family band radio went to El Capitan Meadow and coached the stuck rappeller on how to ascend the rope using Prusiks. After several hours of slow progress, the rappeller had ascended 40 feet—but still had 200 feet more reach Camp V. He was exhausted, vomiting, and almost out of water, so he decided he was unable to continue. The YOSAR team member ensured the rappeller was safely secured to the rope system and not in free-hanging terrain when he ended the radio assist.
In order to extricate the rappellers, YOSAR decided a technical lowering and raising operation would be necessary. The park’s contract helicopter flew 14 YOSAR members and their equipment to the summit of El Capitan that evening. Beginning at about 6 pm, two rescuers were lowered to the party. One stayed with the partner at Camp V while the other was lowered with the stranded rappeller safely to the ground. Then the rescue team pulled the ropes back up from the ground to Camp V and hauled the partner and second rescuer to the summit. They arrived just before a thunderstorm appeared with heavy rain and lightning. The team retreated to a safer location until the storm passed, and then spent the night on the summit. They were extracted by helicopter the next morning.
This climbing party had some multi-pitch traditional climbing experience but no big wall or aid climbing experience. This incident is a good example of the dangerous cascade of events that can occur when a team is ill-prepared for what is a very serious undertaking. Although climbing El Capitan and other long big wall routes has become increasingly popular, it is still a committing endeavor that requires extensive climbing experience and rope/rigging knowledge in order to be completed safely. Climbers and rappellers attempting to rappel big walls should ensure they have the skills and equipment to troubleshoot and adapt in the event that things do not go as planned. Being able to ascend a rope is a fundamental skill that no rappeller, especially one on such a large cliff, should be without. The consequences of unpreparedness can be, and have been, grave for many parties, and mounting a rescue mission always causes risks for rescuers.
08-03-12 HANG GLIDING ACCIDENT FROM GLACIER POINT
On Friday, August 3, 2012, at approximately 9 am, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a 911 call from bystanders at Glacier Point who witnessed a hang gliding accident approximately 400 feet below the Glacier Point lookout. The bystanders reported that the subject took off from Glacier Point and then struck a tree with one of his wings, which caused him to crash into the sloping north-facing terrain below. The subject landed in a grove of manzanita that was difficult to access. Emergency response units from both the Wawona and Valley districts of the park responded to the scene. Upon arrival, NPS medical and rescue personnel determined that the patient had sustained critical injuries and an expeditious extrication would be necessary. Due to the severity of the subject’s injuries and the extended time it would take to prepare and execute a technical raise from his location, rescuers decided that a short-haul extrication would be most appropriate. A ranger was brought in by short-haul, cut the subject out of the hang glider, and then both were short-hauled to Ahwahnee Meadow, where the subject was transferred to Mercy Air Ambulance and flown to definitive care. The patient sustained a dislocated elbow, a mandibular fracture, and significant facial trauma.
Through cooperative efforts, Yosemite National Park has granted permission to the Yosemite Hang Gliders Association (a chapter of the United States Hang Gliders Association) to conduct hang gliding activities solely from Glacier Point; one condition of the permit is that a qualified hang gliding monitor must be present. Launch times, landing zones, and pilot qualifications are highly regulated. Within the last year and a half there have been two significant hang gliding accidents in the park. Both pilots sustained significant injuries. The pilot in this accident was very experienced—it is important to remember that even those with years of experience can make critical mistakes. In any high-risk activity, maintaining awareness, avoiding complacency, and double-checking systems are as important for experts as they are for novices.
07-12-12 LITTER CARRYOUT ON YOSEMITE FALLS TRAIL
On the afternoon of Thursday, July 12, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a report that a male hiker in his upper 40s/early 50s had fallen on the Yosemite Falls Trail, just below Columbia Rock, and could not continue hiking. The subject was hiking downhill when his foot slipped on a step covered by decomposed granite (very fine gravel). While one leg slipped forward, the subject’s other leg slipped backward, forcing the subject into the splits. The subject was wearing tennis shoes with slick bottom soles. A combination of high use and very little to no precipitation leads to an accumulation of gravel on Yosemite’s trails, especially during the summer. When travelling downhill on steep sections of trail, slipping on the gravel is common. Wearing trail shoes, hiking boots, or footwear with sticky rubber soles can help hikers maintain traction on the park’s trails; some hikers also use trekking poles to help with balance and avoid slipping.
After catching his breath, the subject got back on his feet and tried to continue hiking downhill, but the pain from a strained muscle in his upper left leg was more than he could bear. The first YOSAR rescuer sent to the scene carried a pair of crutches in the hopes that the subject could crutch down the rest of the trail, but the subject was unable to use the crutches. A litter team was dispatched to the scene and, using a litter (stretcher) fitted with an all-terrain wheel, carried out the subject.
07-06-12 PARTIAL THICKNESS LEG BURNS IN LITTLE YOSEMITE VALLEY
At about 8:45 a.m. on Friday, July 6, a 52 year-old female backpacker staying in the Little Yosemite Valley backpacker’s campground suffered partial thickness burns to both her legs. After eating breakfast, the subject and her fellow backpackers prepared to wash their dishes by bringing a pot of water to boil. The group was using a single-burner backpacking stove, placed on top of a low stump. The pot of boiling water was accidentally spilled on the subject’s legs, causing partial thickness burns to the subject’s entire right knee and an estimated two-thirds of the circumference of the subject’s left calf. Unfortunately, this incident was not a singular event this summer; multiple cases of burns occurring in park campgrounds have been treated at the Yosemite Medical Clinic. Placing a camp stove on a secure and unmovable surface and being careful when moving hot items to and from the stove are two tips to keep in mind to avoid accidents. Additionally, heightened vigilance when children are near camp stoves and campfire rings is critical; in the morning, children will often approach a campfire ring that appears innocuous, only to plunge their hands in the ashes and be burned by hot embers from the previous night’s fire.
The subject suffering burns at Little Yosemite Valley waded waist-deep in the Merced River, where she stood in the water for approximately 20 minutes to stop the burning. When NPS rescuers arrived on scene, the subject’s body temperature had dropped to 95.4°F and the skin associated with the burns had sloughed off. Using the rule of palms, rescuers estimated that 8% of the subject’s body had been burned. The subject’s wounds were irrigated and wrapped in dry gauze, and the subject was flown by helicopter out of the backcountry to the NPS helibase at Crane Flat, where she was transferred to an ambulance and transported to Sonora Regional Medical Center.
03-24-2012 INJURED CLIMBER EVACUATED AFTER A 50 FOOT FALL
At approximately 8:15 pm, Yosemite Dispatch received a 911 call directly from a 26 year old woman who had fallen 50+ feet from the rappel route of Super Slide, a popular climb behind the Ahwahnee hotel. A YOSAR litter team was immediately dispatched while rangers went on a hasty response to locate the victim. The woman was found at the bottom of the pitch with multiple severe injuries. The YOSAR team stabilized her with a vacuum splint and provided ALS treatment. They then lowered her down the steep trail to the road using the wheel litter and a rope system for support. The patient was evacuated via ground transport to the nearest hospital and flown out from there to a major trauma center.
01-28-2012 SNOWSHOER RESCUED FROM TUOLUMNE BACKCOUNTRY
Two winter rangers responded to a snowshoer in the Tuolumne backcountry who reportedly could no longer walk due to severe cold in his feet. The rangers helped the man re-warm throughout the day, but he remained unable to snowshoe out unassisted. They stayed overnight with the patient and transported him via snowmobile to Tioga Pass the next day, where Mono County SAR met them for a mutual aid transfer to bring him to safety.
01-29-12 INJURED SKIER WITH DISLOCATED SHOULDER TREATED AND EVACUATED
Two YOSAR rangers, while performing a snow survey near Glacier Point, happened upon a 49 year-old male who while skiing with friends had fallen and dislocated his shoulder. The rangers made contact with the man and began providing medical attention, as well as arranging means of egress. Medical Control was contacted at the Yosemite Medical Clinic for a consult and the order was given to relocate the affected shoulder in the field. After a successful reduction of the joint, the subject stated that he would be able to walk out to Glacier Point Road with assistance. The subject’s gear was divvied out to other members of his group and the party began to make its way toward Glacier Point Road. At some point, the group was met on the trail by an additional ranger who provided a snowmobile and gear sled. The subject was placed on the snowmobile and transported to Badger Ranger Station, where he refused additional medical attention and was released without further incident.