SELECTED RESCUES - YOSAR responded to calls in 2014
9/11/14 - At approximately 10:30 am, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center (ECC) received an international call from a woman stating that her husband’s climbing partner had sent her a text from El Capitan requesting a rescue. A 39-year-old male climber fell while climbing pitch 25 of 31 (the Glowering Spot) on the Nose route, which is a 2,900-foot climb (Grade VI, 5.14a or 5.9 C2). The subject, along with his climbing partner, had slept at the base of pitch 25 on their second night on the wall. The subject began leading pitch 25 at about 9 am, aid climbing off a ledge above where the two climbers had slept. As the subject climbed, he placed protection gear: one stopper, followed by a second stopper, and then a cam. The cam pulled out and the subject started falling, hitting the ledge about 20 feet below him; as he fell beyond the ledge, the first stopper caught him. Later examination revealed that the second stopper was still in the wall with the quickdraw (a piece of webbing) hanging from it, but the lower carabiner, which had been clipped to the rope, was gone. The climbers do not know whether the carabiner broke or became unclipped during subject’s fall. As a result of the fall and hitting the ledge, the subject had severe lower back pain.The climbing partner lowered the subject to a ledge, escaped the belay and began giving care to the subject. The climbing partner unsuccessfully attempted to yell for help and call 911; he then texted the subject’s wife in Spain. The subject’s wife called the Yosemite ECC and alerted the park to the accident. The climbing partner called 911 again but had difficulty communicating due to the language barrier. Rangers went to the El Capitan Meadow and set up a spotting scope and megaphone; around noon they located the climbing partner on the wall of El Capitan and began communicating with him by loudspeaker, confirming that the climbing party needed help.A team of 13 Yosemite search and rescue (YOSAR) members was assembled and flown by helicopter, along with their gear, from El Capitan Meadow to the top of El Capitan. The YOSAR team began rigging for a high-angle rescue, estimating that the subject was roughly 800 to 1,000 feet below the summit of El Capitan.* The rescue team lowered a ranger-medic to the injured subject, who then packaged the subject into a litter (a metal basket). Due to high winds, the rescue team decided not to lower the ranger and patient to the base of El Capitan, and instead raised them 900 feet to the top. Upon arriving at the summit, care of the patient was transferred to another ranger-medic; he and five other rescue team members carried the subject in the litter uphill about one-half mile to a flat landing zone. The helicopter picked up the ranger-medic and patient and flew them to Yosemite’s Crane Flat Helibase, where an NPS ambulance was waiting to transport the patient out of the park to a regional hospital. Meanwhile, with sunset fast approaching, the rest of YOSAR team started a second rescue operation to extract the subject’s climbing partner. A rescuer was lowered down to the climbing partner, and then they both were raised, along with approximately 100 pounds of climbing gear, to the top of El Capitan by the remaining rescue team members. The YOSAR team and climbing partner were flown to Crane Flat Helibase by helicopter with a mere 15 minutes to spare before sunset (the latest time of the day that a helicopter can use a landing zone like the one at the top of El Capitan). The injured subject suffered multiple thoracic and lumbar vertebral compression fractures. As of Friday, September 12, the subject was still in a brace and being monitored in a step-down unit at the hospital, but it appeared back surgery would not be required, at least not in the immediate future. In an interview with a Yosemite climbing ranger, the climbing partner reported that he and the injured subject had done very little aid climbing and that this was their first trip to Yosemite. Their El Capitan climb was their third climb in Yosemite Valley, and they had climbed many popular climbing routes in Tuolumne Meadows.--* Here is a more detailed description of the rescue:When YOSAR rigs for a high-angle rescue, both a main line and a belay line are created. This provides for a redundant system, meaning if one of the rope systems were to fail, the other would still be intact. Two 1,200-foot ropes and one 600-foot rope were tied together for the belay line and the same was done for the mainline. Several people were stationed at both the belay and main lines during the lower to help manage the rope. In addition to the main and belay line, two edge attendants are needed for a high-angle rescue. These people are on a self-belay system at the edge of the high-angle terrain (in this case, the end of the vertical terrain on El Capitan). The edge attendants help the litter attendant with the transition from a horizontal environment to the vertical one. The litter attendant is the person who goes over the edge of El Capitan to make contact with the injured party. The litter attendant is attached to both the main and belay lines. The attendant is lowered over the edge with the litter (the basket the injured person is put in). The litter attendant is a big wall climber and often a parkmedic or paramedic, who can provide advanced life support. Once the entire high-angle system was in place, the Yosemite SAR team began to lower the litter. Communicating via radio, the team lowered the litter attendant to the injured party. When the attendant reached the party, he confirmed the lead climber had taken a lead fall and had injured his back. Due to both the condition of the patient, and the wind conditions of the day, the litter attendant determined the patient would need to be raised to the top of El Capitan and then flown to a waiting ambulance. He communicated this to the litter teams, and they began to rig for a raise. The main and belay teams built a pulley system into the main line, creating a three-to-one mechanical advantage. This meant that for a 1,000-foot raising operation, the main line team would have to pull up 3,000 feet of rope. Once the teams were rigged for a raise, and the litter attendant was ready, the teams began to haul. At this point, the 13 team members were distributed across the various stations so that only two people were raising the belay line and six people were raising the main line. The team on the main line was pulling most of the weight, which was that of two men and a litter, roughly weighing 350 pounds. In order to pull the attendant and patient to the top, the main line haulers would attach ascenders to the main line, and then pull the rope approximately 50 yards before having to detach the ascenders from the line and then move back uphill to the top of the rope so they could repeat the process. Because the team had to haul the patient to the top, the patient’s uninjured partner and their gear had to wait for a second raising operation. The team raised the injured party and attendant to the top of El Capitan. Once the party was out of the vertical terrain, a paramedic began to attend to the patient. The rest of the team began to reset the main and belay lines for another lower for the partner and gear. The paramedic administered pain medication, and then he and five other team members carried the patient to the El Capitan helicopter landing zone, which was approximately one-half mile uphill from where the team was. Once the team reached the landing zone, the paramedic and another team member stayed with the patient while waiting on the helicopter. The other four team members returned to the rest of the team. Once the helicopter arrived, the paramedic and the patient would fly to the Yosemite helibase and rendezvous with a waiting ambulance.While the patient was being transported, the rest of the team lowered another litter attendant to the partner. The team then rigged for a raise, creating another three-to-one pulley system for the main line. By the time the four team members returned from carrying the patient to the landing zone, the team was ready to raise. This time the weight of the raise was approximately 400 pounds. The team was informed that sunset was at 7:43 pm that night. This meant that if they were going to be helicoptered off of the El Capitan summit, they would need to finish their last helicopter run by 7:43 pm. In order to get all of the team and their gear off of the summit, they would need to do three helicopter runs. When the team began their final raising operation, the time was roughly 5:40 pm. While the final raising operation was being completed, another team member began to build a sling load for the gear. Once the partner and attendant were back in the horizontal environment, the team began to break down the systems as quickly as possible. The first wave of rescuers and the partner then hiked the half mile uphill to the landing zone, arriving within two minutes of the helicopter. The helicopter took them to the Yosemite helibase then returned for the group’s sling load of gear. The helicopter took the sling load, and the final rescuers jogged to the landing zone. The helicopter returned for a final time, collecting the final wave of rescuers and landing at the helibase with 15 minutes to spare before sunset.
9/02/14 - The Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a cell phone call from a hiker on the Yosemite Falls Trail requesting help for a member of the hiker’s group. According to the hiker, a 28-year-old woman had slipped and fallen onto a rock. The subject had broken several teeth and was bleeding profusely. The hiker stated that the group was at Columbia Rock, which is approximately one mile up the Yosemite Falls Trail.
A ranger-paramedic started up the trail and located the subject approximately fifteen minutes up the trail. The subject had severely injured her mouth. Three other adults were with the subject. According to the hiker who reported the accident, while the group was at Columbia Rock, they decided to take a jumping photo to post on social media. The group of hikers, including the subject, had all jumped and tucked their legs behind them. When the subject landed, she slipped forward on gravel and face-planted on a rock. The group of hikers was able to start hiking down trail until they met up with the ranger-paramedic.
The ranger-paramedic administered pain medication to the subject. Typically, the medication makes people dizzy, so the ranger-paramedic requested a litter team to carry out the subject. A litter team was assembled and reached the subject within thirty minutes of the request.
Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) can extract an ill or injured party out of the backcountry on crutches, by horseback, or even by helicopter, but in most cases, YOSAR utilizes a litter carry out team. For this incident, a litter carry out was the best option. A litter team is comprised of at least six people (ideally more), a metal litter (the basket the subject lies in) and an ATV wheel that attaches to the bottom of the litter. The subject is strapped into the litter, the wheel is screwed onto the bottom of the litter, and then three people hold each side of the litter and guide the wheeled litter along the trail. Additional rescuers can act as a break for the litter, or the horsepower for the litter, pulling from either end of the litter depending on the slope of the terrain.
Because the subject was only fifteen minutes up the trail, six YOSAR personnel, in addition to the ranger-paramedic already on scene, could safely extract the subject. If the carryout had been longer, if the terrain had been more strenuous, or if the subject had been heavier, the litter team would have included more rescuers. While there is no exact formula for the number of rescuers to send on a litter carry out, more is usually better. Often, rescuers will have to maneuver difficult terrain in precarious areas, navigate in the dark or poor weather conditions, all the while attempting to get the subject to definitive care as quickly as possible. On the other hand, the incident command team is always mindful that in Yosemite it is not uncommon for multiple rescues to take place at the same time, and to adjust accordingly the number of rescuers committed to each rescue.
While the subject in this particular rescue fell while jumping, she could have just as easily suffered the same injury on the same trail while walking. Sloped, gravel-covered surfaces comprise the majority of the Yosemite Falls Trail, and ground-level falls are common. Be aware that even the most experienced hiker can turn an ankle or slip on any trail, and take care to stack the odds in your favor. While good preparation won’t guarantee you will complete your hike safely, it will greatly increase your chances of arriving at the trailhead injury free.
8/20/14 - At approximately 9:30 pm, two Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) responders, hiking on the Mist Trail (which starts east of Yosemite Valley and parallels the Merced River), arrived at the bottom of the Nevada Fall switchbacks to assist a 71-year-old male hiker. The subject had reached the top of Half Dome a few hours earlier, and was complaining of exhaustion and sore feet. He was hiking with his adult daughter and her friend. The subject's Half Dome story begins a week earlier, when he bought new hiking boots at an outdoor recreation store. The salesperson advised the subject not to wear his new boots on his upcoming Half Dome hike, since new boots that haven't been broken in on shorter hikes often cause hot spots, blisters, and soreness on a long, strenuous hike like the Half Dome hike. Even so, the subject chose to wear his new boots. The subject and his group started hiking at 6:30 am on Wednesday. The subject reported that he did not eat breakfast and did not pack any food for his hike; he received granola bars and snacks from other hikers along the trail. The subject brought drinking water, which he consumed during the day; when he ran out of water, his daughter and her friend shared their remaining water with him. Early on during the hike to Half Dome, somewhere near the top of Vernal Fall (1.5 miles and 1,000 feet in elevation above the trailhead) the subject's daughter and her friend suggested that the subject return to the trailhead, explaining to him that he already appeared tired. The subject insisted that he wanted to continue hiking. The group of three arrived at the base of the Half Dome cables in the afternoon, around 2:30 pm. The subject's daughter immediately felt anxious as she started up the cables; she panicked, stopped her ascent, and descended back down the cables with her friend. They implored the subject not to proceed up the cables, but he continued his ascent. The subject's daughter and her friend then hiked down the sub dome to the Half Dome permit checkpoint, where they waited for the subject. At approximately 4:30 pm, a guided hiking group arrived at the checkpoint after descending the cables and the sub dome, and the subject's daughter asked the group if they had seen her father. The group recalled seeing him approaching the top of the cable route around 3:30 pm, appearing exhausted. The hiking group contacted the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center (ECC), conveying concern on behalf of the subject's daughter (whose cell phone didn't have reception at that location). The daughter (via the hiking group) requested immediate assistance for her father. After speaking by phone with a ranger assigned to the case, members of the hiking group went back up the sub dome in an attempt to locate the subject. They called back 20 minutes later, reporting that they had found the subject and were accompanying him back down to his daughter and her friend. At approximately 6 pm, the subject's daughter, using her own cell phone, called the ECC, reporting that her group of three had run out of food and water and were stopped at the Half Dome-John Muir Trail junction (about two miles below the summit of Half Dome). A YOSAR responder stationed at the Little Yosemite Valley Ranger Station (3.5 miles below the summit of Half Dome) called the subject's daughter and counseled her to proceed downhill to the ranger station; when the threesome arrived, they were given food and water, and then they resumed their hike downhill. The subject was exhausted and his feet were in pain, so the group's progress was extremely slow. As darkness fell, with only one small flashlight and no map between the three of them, they became confused about the trail system and which way to go to reach the trailhead. The two YOSAR responders who arrived at their location at 9 pm assisted the subject in hiking out; on the treacherous Vernal Fall steps, one of the two rescuers trailed behind the subject, holding onto his backpack from behind, while the other positioned himself in front of the subject, offering a hand to prevent the subject from pitching forward and falling. The group reached the trailhead at 12:30 am. In the meantime, a separate rescue effort for another Half Dome hiker was underway. The wife of a 58-year-old male hiker called the Yosemite ECC at approximately 9 pm to report that her husband, who had "no cartilage left in his knees," had successfully hiked up to the top of Half Dome earlier in the day, but the hike back downhill was proving difficult. The hiking party had run out of water but still had food; the subject's wife was advised to have the subject rest and eat, while a ranger set off on the trail to find the subject and assess his condition. Upon arriving at the subject's location, on the switchbacks of the John Muir Trail below Clark Point, it was clear to the ranger that the subject simply could not hike any farther, so he requested a litter team. The litter team carried the subject down to the trailhead; the rescue was complete by approximately 1:15 am. Key components for making any given hiking adventure safe and successful are (1) having an adequate fitness level for the chosen hike and (2) knowing the limits of your own physical abilities. In the case of the second rescue, had the subject tried a shorter uphill hike before attempting the Half Dome hike, it is possible he would have discovered that his knees could not handle the stress of hiking back downhill. Half Dome hikers routinely underestimate the level of difficulty of the hike; from the trailhead at Happy Isles, in Yosemite Valley, to the top of Half Dome, the trail gains 4,800 feet in elevation, and the hike is 14 to 16 miles round trip, depending on which route hikers use. Most hikers take 10 to 12 hours to hike up and back (please note, permits to hike to the top of Half Dome are required seven days a week when the cables are up). Proper preparation is also critical. For a strenuous all-day hike like the Half Dome hike, bringing plenty of drinking water (1 gallon is recommended), food, a headlamp or flashlight for each member of the hiking group, and a detailed map is a must. As the first rescue illustrates, wearing proper footwear helps prevent problems from developing on the Half Dome hike: choose comfortable, well broken-in shoes or boots with good traction and ankle support (tennis shoes are not recommended).
8/13/14 - At approximately 1 pm, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center (ECC) received a report of an unconscious male in the natural pool at the base of Vernal Fall. Three rangers responded to the scene, arriving within 30 minutes of the initial report. A National Park Service trail crew supervisor directed the rangers to the subject, a 24-year-old male, who, by the time the rangers arrived, was out of the pool, sitting among the boulders at the base of Vernal Fall. The subject was conscious and alert and drinking a bottle of water. He was surrounded by three other hikers; it is unclear exactly how long the subject was underwater.One ranger performed an initial medical assessment on the subject, while another ranger asked the three hikers to recount the events. According to the hikers, they had been hiking down the Mist Trail from the top of Vernal Fall when they noticed a person in distress in the pool at the base of Vernal Fall. The three hikers stated there were “hundreds” of people on the trail who could see the subject struggling to exit the water. One of threesome, who was farther down the trail, ran off-trail to the base of Vernal Fall and jumped into the pool. The hiker swam across the pool to the subject, who had “gassed out” (the term used by the hiker) and was bobbing under the water. The hiker-rescuer was able to push the drowning man to the edge of the water, where another bystander, who was no longer at the scene when the rangers arrived, pulled the subject from the river. Once the subject was out of the water, he began to vomit profusely. By this time, the hiker-rescuer’s two friends had crossed the river and had joined him and the rescued subject. The three hikers gave the rescued man water and food and sat with him until the rangers arrived.According to the rescued subject, who was on his honeymoon, he had decided to go swimming in the pool while his wife waited at the river’s edge. He had been in the pool, on the big rock not far from the edge of the river, when he decided to swim from the big rock across the full length of the pool. As he reached the far side, he became tired. That, combined with the cold water and the slippery nature of the rocks at the pool’s edge, prevented the subject from being able to pull himself out of the pool. As he struggled to exit the pool, he began to drift downstream and bob under the water. It was at this point that the hiker-rescuer jumped into the pool and pushed him to the edge where the other rescuer pulled him from the water. The subject explained to the rangers that he did not have much swimming experience.Once the rangers were finished with their medical assessment, they and the subject’s rescuers helped the man cross the river, where he was reunited with his new wife, who had watched the incident. Once the subject and his wife were ready to hike down the trail, he declined further medical attention. The rangers advised the subject that while he appeared in a good state of health at the time of assessment, near-drownings could present with respiratory failure or infection several hours after the event.While the Merced River is typically at its lowest level in August and September, drownings and near-drownings are not uncommon at this time of year in Yosemite. Due to the high summer temperatures and seemingly benign water conditions, people who have little swimming experience can be lulled into a false sense of security and enter water that is beyond their abilities. Many near misses and fatalities in the river corridors of Yosemite often begin with people overestimating their swimming skill and underestimating the strength of the river. While the hikers who rescued the subject thought it was strange no one was going to the aid of the drowning subject, it is common for people to fail to recognize that someone is drowning. Moreover, all too often would-be rescuers enter a river to save a drowning person, becoming victims themselves. When visiting a national park and enjoying its natural features, please remember you are responsible for your own safety, and when it comes to wading or swimming in flowing water, carefully assess your own swimming ability and that of everyone else in your group. Survey the scene before approaching the water. Beyond the clear dangers of waterfalls, Yosemite’s rivers and streams have unseen currents and hidden hazards, such as submerged rocks and logs, and the river beds have sudden drop-offs.The rangers left the subject and his wife and returned to the trailhead. Just as they were about to drive away, the rangers received a report that a 46-year-old woman on the lower steps of the Mist Trail had a seizure and was in an altered level of consciousness (in a postictal state). The rangers hiked back up the trail, reaching the subject within a half an hour. Once on scene, rangers realized the subject spoke English as a second language and the initial report of a seizure was incorrect. The subject, who was conscious and talking, had lost consciousness briefly (i.e., suffered a minor syncopal episode). The rangers performed an initial assessment on the subject and concluded her fainting episode was most likely due to the subject not eating lunch. They advised the subject to eat and drink before continuing down the trail.
8/03/14 to 8/06/14 - On four consecutive days, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center (ECC) received 911 calls for visitors who had fallen and were injured while venturing off trail near the Lower Yosemite Fall Footbridge. The first incident happened on Sunday, August 3: a 45-year-old male was upstream from the footbridge, standing on a rock, when his foot slipped out from under him and he slid down the face of the rock to the ground. As he slid, he struck his head on the rock, and was bleeding behind his left ear. On Monday, August 4, a 19-year-old female, while scrambling on a slick boulder at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall, slipped and took a five-foot sliding fall off the boulder; unable to walk, the subject was extricated by a Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) carryout team. She suffered a trimalleolar fracture (an ankle fractured in three places), requiring surgical repair and will have an extensive period of recovery. On Tuesday, August 5, a 14-year-old female lost her grip while scrambling on a boulder, slid headfirst down the rock, and injured her left wrist while trying to slow her fall. Although, at the scene of the accident, the subject was nearly certain she had fractured her wrist, no fracture was noted on the x-ray, and she was diagnosed with a severe sprain. Finally, on Wednesday, August 5, a 45-year-old male slipped and fell while scrambling on uneven terrain not far upstream from the footbridge, spraining his ankle. After the above-mentioned accidents, yet another occurred on Sunday, August 10. A 26-year-old male was scrambling on the rocks between the footbridge and the base of the waterfall when he slipped and fell, sustaining a large scalp laceration which required repair at the Yosemite Medical Clinic. Additionally, earlier this summer, in June, there were two serious accidents in the same area, near the pool at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall. Although it is not illegal to scramble up to the pool, it is strongly discouraged due to the risk of injury and also for the risk to responders of these incidents. While you may see many people doing this during your visit, please remember how truly dangerous it can be and make smart choices.Even though it is tempting to leave the trail and scramble to the bases of Yosemite’s waterfalls, especially as water levels drop, the boulders at the base of waterfalls are always treacherous. Even when dry, the granite rocks remain surprisingly slick, having been polished smooth by the pounding, falling water most of the year. When rescuers respond to these accidents, even though they are wearing footwear with sticky rubber soles and are experienced in navigating through this type of terrain, they find themselves proceeding with extreme caution. Enjoy Yosemite’s waterfalls from the safety of the trail, and if you want to cool off in a waterway, choose a spot along one of Yosemite’s rivers where there is easy access (a sandy beach, for example), and where the river is flowing slowly and the water appears calm. Of course, all natural waterways have hidden dangers: strong, unpredictable currents; unseen drop-offs along the river bottoms; and submerged logs and rocks. All children need close supervision by an adult who can swim. If you are an adult who doesn’t know how to swim, do not enter the water!
7/27/14 - On Sunday, July 27, the wife of a 37-year-old male hiker called the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center, reporting that her husband was having difficulty breathing. The couple had arrived in Tuolumne Meadows (elevation 8,600 feet) on Wednesday, July 23. On Saturday, July 26, in spite of feeling slightly ill, the subject, along with his wife, set out on a one-night backpacking trip. They were hiking slowly throughout the day. The subject’s condition deteriorated as he began experiencing difficulty breathing. That evening, the couple set up camp near a pond on the way to Clouds Rest. The subject continued to feel extremely ill, was coughing up sputum, and had difficulty sleeping. On Sunday morning, they tried to hike out. However, the subject, feeling even worse, couldn’t manage to carry his backpack. It was at this point that his wife called for help. The Tuolumne Meadows Search and Rescue team responded, assessed the patient, and determined that he needed a hasty evacuation. He was administered oxygen because he was having severe difficulty breathing and field diagnostic equipment indicated that the oxygen saturation levels in his blood were abnormally low. The SAR team arranged for the patient to be extricated via horseback. He remained on oxygen throughout the rescue. The patient was then transported out of the park to the hospital in Bishop. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and possible high altitude pulmonary edema. He remained in the hospital for two nights. What lessons does this event offer? First, if you notice you are not feeling well before your trip, consider changing your itinerary before you even set out on the trail; for example; instead of going on a planned overnight backpacking trip, try a shorter day hike. Keep in mind, also, that if, while you’re hiking, you take a turn for the worse, stop, rest, and if your condition doesn’t noticeably improve, turn around sooner rather than later. Also, be mindful of the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness. This condition does affect some of our park visitors, especially those exploring the higher altitude areas of the park. Headache, nausea, and general fatigue are common symptoms. Acclimatizing slowly is the best way to prevent this illness from progressing. Perhaps spend a night or two at elevation in the campground before you begin your overnight journey.
7/08/14 - At approximately 3 pm , the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a 911 call from a party of three hiking on the Panorama Trail. One member of the party was calling to report that his mother (77 years old) and her friend (64 years old) were feeling exhausted and hot, and didn’t think they could complete the hike. The party had started hiking down from Glacier Point at approximately 10 am and had made it just past Illillouette Fall at approximately 2:30 pm. Temperatures were in the 90s that day and the trail is very exposed to the sun. The reporting party stated that his mother was stopping every few feet to catch her breath and she would be unable to walk out on her own. The condition of the other member of the group was unknown, but it was presumed that she would need assistance as well. A SAR team member already in the area of the Panorama Trail was dispatched to perform initial assessments of the patients and determine the necessary resources. A SAR team was assembled and deployed with equipment to do a litter carryout for one patient. Another park ranger was deployed with the capability to assist the other patient out on horseback. The SAR team encountered the patient approximately six miles up from the Happy Isles trailhead. Further assessment revealed that the 64-year-old female would be able to walk with assistance, while the 77-year-old female would need to be carried out. A horse rescue was attempted for the 77 year old female, but due to her condition, she was unable to ride safely. Ultimately, she was carried out via wheeled litter by the SAR team back to the Valley. The rescue, in total, took approximately nine hours.When asked about preparations for this trip, the 64-year-old female said they were given incorrect information by a friend about the intensity of the trail. They did not understand that it would be so arduous and did not prepare appropriately for the exhaustion that accompanies hiking in extreme heat. They also underestimated the challenges of hiking on a rocky trail, as this proved quite difficult for both women being rescued. It is always important to research trails and terrain before embarking on any hike, especially in very hot and sunny conditions. Using resources like the park visitor centers and information booths, websites, checking maps and trip reports, and talking to park rangers can assist when planning for a safe hiking expedition. Making assumptions about terrain can prove detrimental, as is evidenced by this incident.
7/04/14 - On the Fourth of July, the parents of a six-year-old girl brought their daughter to the Yosemite Medical Clinic after she nearly drowned in the Merced River. The parents recounted the following story to clinic staff:Along with her parents and seven-year-old sister, the six-year-old subject was wading in a shallow area of the river, just below Swinging Bridge. The subject’s parents don’t know how it happened, but all of a sudden they saw the subject slipping below the water in what turned out to be a deep section of the river; the last they saw of their daughter was one of her hands reaching skyward before it disappeared. The mother and then the father, both fully clothed, jumped into the water at the spot they last saw their daughter. Neither parent knows how to swim, so they also sank to the bottom of the river. A bystander, watching what had just happened, jumped off the bridge into the river, and with one arm grabbed the six-year-old subject, while with the other arm he pushed the father, who in turn pushed against the mother, up and out of the water. Other bystanders helped the parents out of the water, while the original bystander carried the subject out of the water. The subject never lost consciousness and reported to clinic staff that she remembered the entire episode. The parents estimate she was submerged under the water for 1-2 minutes. After she was rescued, the subject was coughing persistently, but was able to breathe on her own.About an hour after the near-drowning episode, the subject complained of a stomach ache and vomited multiple times; her parents brought her to the clinic for further evaluation. After consulting with Children’s Hospital Central California, the clinicians at the Yosemite Medical Clinic advised the subject’s parents to have her transported by ambulance to Children’s Hospital for more extensive evaluation and overnight observation.Submersion injuries can present in a variety of ways. The victim can be completely unresponsive and pulseless or can be awake and oriented and seemingly unscathed. It is worth noting that even subjects without any symptoms that suffer near drowning can still decompensate into respiratory failure up to 8 hours after the injury. It is therefore essential that all near-drowning victims receive further medical assessment. It is imperative for those playing in and near water in Yosemite to understand that drowning incidents occur not only in fast moving white water, but also in shallow, slow, seemingly benign bodies of water as well. This is particularly true for young children and those who do not know how to swim. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every day in the United States, ten people die from unintentional drowning. Of these ten, two are aged 14 and younger. Children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates. Research has shown that both lack of swimming ability and lack of close supervision influence drowning risk.One drowning prevention strategy that is particularly important in Yosemite is close supervision of children when they are in and around rivers and lakes. The CDC recommends that “because drowning occurs quickly and quietly, adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity...while supervising children…” It is worth noting that the adult responsible for the supervision of the child should be comfortable and capable of swimming him or herself. The supervisors of young children should provide “touch supervision,” close enough to touch or reach the child at all times. Learning to swim is another drowning prevention strategy that is important for both children and adults. If you are planning to vacation in an area with pools, lakes, rivers, or ocean, please consider enrolling you and/or your child in beginner’s swimming lessons. Most local pools, YMCAs, and American Red Cross chapters offer local swimming, first aid, and CPR classes. Visit your city or town’s official website to find out where you can participate in swimming lessons in your area. It could save a life
6/19/14 - On the afternoon of June 19th, 2014, a boy was jumping across the boulders at Lower Yosemite Fall. He slipped and fell onto his head, suffering from serious head injuries. Even though the falls are diminishing in size, rocks are still slippery even when dry. This is the second very dangerous slip on rocks near Yosemite Falls in the last few weeks. Please stay on the trail.
5/28/14 - At approximately 11:45 am, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a 911 call from an individual in a party of four backpackers stating that one of the members of the party had fallen into the creek at the base of Upper Yosemite Fall. The reporting party and two other friends were in the boulders near the base of the falls and could see the subject stranded on the boulder in the middle of the river. Two park rangers were dispatched to the scene to evaluate the degree of the emergency and the resources necessary to perform a rescue. The rangers arrived on scene approximately 45 minutes after the 911 call and located the reporting party, who led the rangers to an area where they could see the subject. The subject was lying on a boulder below a series of cascades in class V+ whitewater in an area commonly referred to as the “Inner Gorge.”
The reporting party stated that his friend was scrambling around on wet slabs near the gorge when he slipped and fell in. The subject was extremely fortunate that another member of his party happened to see him fall, as they were slightly separated at the time of the incident. The creek flushed him through over 100 feet of whitewater before he was able to pull himself onto a boulder in the middle of the gorge. Had the subject been unable to self-rescue by getting onto the rock, he would have taken fatal plunge over a waterfall. The park rangers determined that an emergent extrication was necessary because of the potential for serious injuries and hypothermia.
Park rangers considered two plans: attempt a helicopter short-haul operation or perform a rope extrication. It was determined that any sort of rope rescue would take a significant amount of time due to the extremely wet and technical terrain. A delayed rescue had the potential to exacerbate the victim’s hypothermic condition. Nevertheless, additional search and rescue team members began hiking to the scene with equipment to perform a rope extrication as a contingency plan. Meanwhile, park helicopter 551 performed a reconnaissance fly-over to determine if a short-haul operation would be possible. This area of the falls has high gusting winds that can make flight operations unsafe. Fortunately, the helicopter pilot determined that he could safely perform the short-haul operation. He returned to Ahwahnee Meadow, where he picked up the short-haul attendant. The attendant was flown and inserted into the subject’s location, where he detached from the short-haul line. He quickly put the victim into a harness and the helicopter returned and lifted both out of the gorge and back to Ahwahnee Meadow. The subject was then transferred to an ambulance, where he was treated for hypothermia. He sustained no other injuries and was released.
When hiking in areas with swiftwater, stay on the trail and away from the water. Rocks along rivers and creeks are extremely slick when dry, and even more so when wet. Many visitors slip on slick rock every year and a few are swept away, often suffering serious injuries or death. Look where the current will take you before approaching the water. Even water that looks calm can have powerful—often deadly— currents.