SELECTED RESCUES - YOSAR responded to calls in 2015
11/02/15 - Winter arrived in Yosemite. By early afternoon, rangers began enforcing tire chain requirements, and the snow plow drivers began their first operation of the winter. White stuff dusted the Badger Pass chairlifts and rain soaked Yosemite Valley. Visitors and park staff alike bundled in jackets, drove more slowly, and marveled that water was finally falling from the sky.
It’s worth noting, however, that not all park visitors found Yosemite’s first 2015 winter storm to be so beautiful. At 3:30 pm, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center (ECC) received a 911 call stating that a 60-year-old man, somewhere on the John Muir Trail, had hypothermia and needed help. Unfortunately, the call immediately dropped. Yosemite ECC attempted to call the caller back, but Yosemite ECC was unable to reconnect with the caller. Yosemite ECC passed what little information they had on to the ranger staff.
Frigid, winter rain fell in sheets on the Valley and heavy clouds blotted out what little sunlight remained in the day. Despite these conditions, Valley rangers organized a hasty search and rescue response. Around 4:00 pm, a team of two rescuers started up the John Muir Trail. They hiked quickly, wearing rain gear and carrying headlamps and advanced life support materials. As the afternoon faded into evening and the conditions worsened, the rescuers called the ambulance and asked them to have warm IV fluids waiting. They hadn’t found the patient, but they knew when they did, he would be colder and wetter than they.
Around 5:45 pm, the patient from the John Muir Trail appeared at the Yosemite Medical Clinic’s back door. He stated he was hypothermic and requesting help. The rescuers, still on the trail, were immediately recalled, and the patient was treated for hypothermia. Most likely, the responding rescuers missed encountering the patient due to launching from a different entry point than the established Happy Isles trailhead. Because of the complex network of trails in the Vernal-Nevada Falls corridor, as well as the unknown exact location of the patient, responders were forced to choose the patient’s most probable location and start their search from there. This is why it’s most helpful for rangers to know your exact location if you’re calling for help.
After the patient was warmed, rangers learned that he had planned for a week-long trip into the wilderness. The patient, who was actually seventy-three years old, had nearly forty years of winter camping experience, having gotten into ski mountaineering in his mid-thirties. The patient stated that he had checked the weather report prior to embarking on his trip. The forecast put the projected temperatures to be in the 30s to 40s (degrees Fahrenheit) for the week. As a result, the patient, who owned colder weather gear, only packed gear for mild winter conditions.
The patient started his trip on Sunday, November 1, from the Valley floor. He spent the night at Little Yosemite Valley. Snow dusted his tent that night, but when he woke up on Monday, the snow had turned to a light drizzle. As he packed that morning, the patient noticed that his tent had gotten wet, subsequently dampening part of his sleeping bag.
The patient continued on his wilderness itinerary and began to hike towards Tuolumne Meadows. Around 11:00 am, the temperature dropped suddenly, settling in the 20s. The patient, already wet from the day’s ongoing precipitation, decided to turn around.
The patient told rangers that he’d had plenty of wretched days while winter camping and this one was no exception. He knew that he had 15 miles of misery in front of him, but he saw no other option than to walk himself out. He began his trek back to the Valley, making his way around as many of puddles on the trail as possible.
By the time he got to the Ice Cut on the John Muir Trail (just below Nevada Fall), he was soaked down to his long underwear. There, he encountered the women who would call 911 for him, but he kept walking even after she had initiated the rescue. He arrived at the Happy Isles trailhead and took a shuttle to the clinic. Once there, he took off his boots and found standing water in them. Later that night he checked into a hotel. When he opened his pack, which was relatively new and had “rain proof” zippers, he found that everything inside was soaked.
First and foremost, this situation drives home the fact that it is now winter in Yosemite. While this individual had checked the weather report and was prepared for conditions matching its projections, the conditions changed. This individual accepted this and prudently turned around, eventually not only self-rescuing himself, but taking a shuttle in order to get further medical help. No doubt, this individual’s prior winter experience helped him know when to turn around and gave him the mental fortitude to continue forward, despite knowing he had 15 long, wet, and cold miles ahead of him. Additionally, this individual did not stop and wait for rescuers to come to him, even after another hiker called 911. This got him out of the elements much faster and potentially prevented much more serious problems.
Be prepared for rapidly changing conditions. Be prepared to abandon your objectives and head back to the trailhead. Wear appropriate clothing and accept when you are under-prepared. This individual had gloves, a hat, long underwear, and gaiters, but they were all ineffective once they were wet. He accepted this and ended his trip early. Know that the fastest rescue response is a self-rescue, when doing so is safe.
Be safe and enjoy the winter season!
9/15/15 - At approximately 5:30 pm, Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) received a report that a climber had taken a 50-foot fall. The climber was on a climbing route called Lurking Fear, which is located on the western edge of El Capitan, and was reportedly was suffering serious injuries, including possible head trauma and a broken clavicle. The reporting party was another climbing team on Lurking Fear. While cell service was poor, YOSAR was able to determine approximately where the climber was and vaguely what had happened. YOSAR used a spotting scope to locate the injured party approximately three quarters of the way up the route. Using a megaphone and hand signals, YOSAR was eventually able to make contact with the partner of the injured climber. From this initial size-up, the partner indicated that the injured climber had a possibly broken clavicle and had not lost consciousness. Given the late hour and the perception that the injured climber had not lost consciousness, YOSAR postponed rescue operations until the following morning.On Sunday, at 7 am, YOSAR began rescue operations out of El Capitan Meadow. Park Helicopter 551 performed a reconnaissance flight, which helped rescuers determine that lowering rescuers from the top of El Capitan would be incredibly difficult and potentially more hazardous than a short-haul mission using Helicopter 551. Short-haul missions involve suspending a rescuer 150-250 feet below the helicopter, flying them to the scene of the accident, and placing them directly onto the side of the cliff.Helicopter 551 inserted two rescuers at the injured climber and the rescuers packaged the patient for extraction. Helicopter 551 then retrieved the injured climber, the two rescuers, and a substantial amount of the climber’s gear. The injured climber was then transferred to an ambulance. The partner of the injured climber was absorbed by another climbing team and continued to the top.After speaking with the injured climber, rangers determined that the climber was using direct aid climbing (the climber was using specialized gear to make progress up the route). The last thing the injured climber remembered was placing a red micro cam and stepping into the ladder to weigh it. Speaking with other climbers on scene, it appears that the top piece of gear failed and proceeded to pull at least two more pieces before being caught by a number four cam. The uninjured partner was able to lower the climber to a ledge and then descend down to assist him. Whereas megaphone communications had led YOSAR to believe the climber had not lost consciousness, follow up interviews with adjacent climbing groups revealed that they had believed the injured climber had a severely deformed helmet and had been going in and out of consciousness, and that the climber had what appeared to be a broken clavicle.The injured climber and his partner were joined by two additional teams of climbers. The fellow climbers reportedly monitored the injured climber through the night and stayed on scene until the completion of the short-haul mission the next day.Lessons LearnedThe placement of multiple questionable pieces of gear (which were used to provide protection in case of a fall) in a row was perhaps the main contributing factor to this accident. Perhaps most importantly, this is a reminder of how helpful helmets can be in preventing serious head trauma. According to medical personnel on scene, it is very likely that the climber’s head injuries would have been much more substantial had the climber not been wearing a helmet.It is important to remember that climbing above ledges increases the likelihood of a lead climber fall causing significant injuries. In this accident, the lead climber was starting off a large and tiered ledge system that the climber may have struck during the fall. Climbers, especially at the end of the day when they are tired and mentally exhausted, are more prone to making mistakes and overlooking safety details. Being cognizant of your own fatigue— as well as your partner’s—is an important part of staying safe on the wall.
9/01/15 - While most of the park's available resources were engaged in a wilderness search for a missing person, Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a 911 call reporting that a young man was trapped in the water and screaming for help near the Silver Apron footbridge between the bottom of Nevada Fall and the top of Vernal Fall. The call was transferred to the incident commander, who attempted to get additional details. Unfortunately, cell reception was poor and it took some relay work to get the information. Meanwhile, a hasty team of two rescuers raced up the trail to assess the scene, relay information, and help as able until a properly outfitted swiftwater team could follow with swiftwater rescue gear. By the time rangers reached the reporting party, the badly injured subject had managed to free himself. The subject avoided the rescuers, who were unable to locate the subject. The swiftwater team returned to the Valley to bolster the teams already depleted for the search operations.
Four days later, on Saturday, September 5, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a call from the Merced River near Arch Rock Entrance Station. The report indicated that a male subject in his 30s dove into a shallow pool of water and could not feel anything below his waist. Ambulances responded from Yosemite Valley and El Portal while rangers responded to the incident with swiftwater gear. As more information came in, rangers learned the subject was already out of the river but was showing signs of shock. The man was flown to a nearby trauma center where, despite the skill of many medical professionals, his injuries left him paralyzed.
The following evening, on September 6, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received another 911 call reporting that a young male subject had slipped while climbing around in boulders at the base of Nevada Fall and that his arm had become trapped between the boulders. A hasty team headed up the trail and found that, while the man had managed to free himself, he had dislocated his shoulder. The subject had no other injuries but was in intense pain. Rescuers provided pain control medication, splinted the shoulder, and then accompanied him down the trail to the Yosemite Medical Clinic, where his shoulder was reduced.
Swiftwater accidents are particularly dangerous and Yosemite has a long and storied history of drownings and horrible accidents in fast-moving spring water. At this time of year, however, the water seems comparatively tame. Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall have all but dried up for the season and the Merced River appears to have been reduced to near stagnation. However, the river still contains a litany of hazards including slippery wet granite, smooth and polished granite (which is also very slippery), boulders creating entrapments, currents that may or may not be observable, deceptively shallow water, and steep drops with short stops. As you enjoy the waterways in this drier season, please remember that rock hopping and scrambling among the boulders near the slow moving river can be as dangerous now as when the water is higher. Stay on designated trails or enjoy the river from one of the many beaches, bridges, or viewpoints along your route so that you can return from your vacation having experienced the park's fall beauty safely!
In each of these incidents, individuals made what seemed like reasonable choices to engage in activities along a seemingly benign section of a river but the injuries that resulted were painful ways to end a vacation, and sadly, one which was life altering.
When you hear about search and rescue or emergency medical services at Yosemite National Park, what environment comes to mind? What are the potential scenarios, especially when talking about traumatic injuries?
The following case occurred on the morning of July 16. Although there is nothing unusual about it, you might be surprised if this incident falls completely outside of your initial guesses.
In short, this begins as a planned hike among two friends on a trail in the Tuolumne Meadows area. However, this hiker never gets out of the Valley. The plans are cancelled when one would-be hiker, a 23-year-old female, is riding her bike to meet up with her hiking partner. The bike rider is on a paved road with a long but gradual downgrade, so she is travelling at a pretty good clip as she approaches a left turn at a relatively busy intersection.
Because of her speed, our rider needs to cut the corner to negotiate her turn but a car suddenly appears and occupies her turning route. The rider takes evasive action to avoid the car but her speed renders her unable to control her bicycle and she crashes. Because our rider is not wearing a helmet, her head, instead of a padded helmet, makes direct contact with the ground.
A frontcountry traumatic injury under these circumstances actually becomes our rider's good fortune. A registered nurse riding her bike to work at the Yosemite Medical Clinic witnesses the crash and immediately reports the incident and attends to the now-fallen rider. The incident is also literally within a baseball's throw of the Valley search and rescue office, so medical providers are on hand almost immediately and an advanced life support ambulance is on scene only moments later. This is a stark contrast to a typical backcountry response, which is often measured in hours rather than seconds.
In any case, the ambulance transports the bike rider to the Yosemite Medical Clinic, where she is treated for a head injury. It appears she will eventually enjoy a complete recovery but this may take some time and the Tuolumne Meadows hike will now have to wait.
The first lesson learned involves bicycle laws. Without making any judgment about this specific case, bicycles generally have to follow the same rules as motor vehicles. In other words, bicyclists must ride on the right side of the road, stop at stop signs, signal their turns, and so on. This is a two-way responsibility: motor vehicle drivers need to respect bicyclists' right-of-way the same as with other motor vehicles. When all users of our roadways pay full attention to their operation and follow the rules of the road, encroachments or conflicts among users are very rare.
Second is the benefit to wearing a bicycle helmet. California law requires riders under 18 to wear helmets. Helmets are optional for bicycle riders 18 and over but they are an outstanding idea, inexpensive, and in many cases are the difference between a minor headache and life-altering or life-ending injuries. Unfortunately, when one observes bicycle operations in the Valley, the majority of adult bike riders, and even some children, opt to skip the helmet. Once the crash occurs, it's too late to reconsider your decision to skip the helmet.
In summary, bike riding is growing in popularity around the United States and in Yosemite. There are many benefits to bike riding, ranging from reducing traffic congestion and smog, greater mobility, personal heath, recreation, etc. However, please keep bike riding a safe and enjoyable experience by paying attention, following all of the rules of the road, and wearing a bicycle helmet.
Remember: the path to your backcountry experience begins with safety in the frontcountry.
6/29/15, sometime around 4 pm, a 49-year-old day hiker at the top of Nevada Fall experienced what many people would consider their worst nightmare: being bitten, and envenomated, by a rattlesnake. He was an experienced hiker and had come across rattlesnakes in the wild before.
The top of Nevada Fall was the objective for the subject and his family. Upon reaching the footbridge at the top of the fall, they decided to do what many hikers feel the need to do after walking in the afternoon heat: take off their shoes and cool their feet at a safe spot in the river. As the subject made his way back onto the granite shoreline, he stepped down into a shallow recess between several rocks and was immediately bitten on the right foot. Moments later, another member of the subject’s family dialed 911 and reported the incident, at which time Yosemite Search and Rescue began to mobilize their response.
A rescue team began hiking to the patient's location as park helicopter 551 mobilized. Approximately one hour after being bitten, 551 airlifted the subject from the top of Nevada Fall and flown to the valley floor, where medical care was waiting. The clinic staff administered antivenom medication to the subject, stabilized him, and readied him for transport to a regional hospital via a medical helicopter.
During a follow-up interview with the patient two weeks after the incident, several details came to light that could prove to be beneficial to other hikers. First, the snake was well hidden under a rock and was not visible. And second, the rushing Merced River would have obscured any warning rattle.
Many people see rattlesnakes while hiking in Yosemite. Snake bites are rare (only one person has apparently died in Yosemite due to a snake bite), but it is important to know that they do occur and that the resulting injuries can be serious: this subject spent several days in the hospital recovering from his bite. Snakes are generally very shy and will avoid contact with humans. In this particular case, the snake was probably trying to hide and stay cool when the subject surprised it by stepping next to it. It is understandable that the patient was barefoot while wading, but for the rest of the hike, a pair of sturdy shoes can protect against many snakebites. An important lesson to learn from this incident is to always be aware of where you place your hands and feet—in addition to snakes, crevices can hide scorpions, spiders, and yellow jacket nests. In this case it wasn’t the obvious hazards of the quickly flowing river, the granite cliffs, or the midday heat that proved most dangerous.
If you are bitten by a snake, try to identify the snake (or have someone else do so), if it's safe to do so. Stay calm and avoid unnecessary physical exertion. The most effective treatment for snakebites is to seek medical care at a hospital or emergency room as quickly as possible. Gone are the days when snakebite first aid involved cutting into the bite and sucking the venom out of the body.
Finally, always treat wildlife with respect and give them the space they need to stay wild. Never approach wildlife to feed, pet, or photograph them. No matter how tame the animal appears, it is wild and could spook easily.
6/29/15 - 27 year-old male got himself into quite a cliff-hanger, literally. In Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) language, we simply call this becoming "ledged-out." While this might seem unrealistic on a simple hike, it is a very real possibility at Yosemite National Park and this spring and summer has already proven how easy it is to become ledged-out on our steep granite cliffs.
From the beginning: A hiker embarks up the Yosemite Falls trail on an apparently routine hike. He does not have a detailed plan but intends to work his way above the Valley toward North Dome and eventually return to the Valley floor by way of the Snow Creek trail.
So far so good, until our hiker runs out of water and thirst sets in around the Basket Dome area. From the trail, he sees the Merced River coursing through the Valley below. Lack of water, thirst, high temperatures, and a view of the cool water below induces a revised plan: abandon the established trail and begin a descent straight to the Valley. The descent, though not technical at first, is often difficult, enough so that it is necessary to slide in places (a big clue that reversing course is becoming impossible).
An on-going error during the descent is neglecting to ever look back to see where he is coming from when returning to the trail might still be an option. Eventually, the hiker arrives at a cliff that is not possible to descend. Lateral movement to his right and left are not negotiable and the route he just invented is so steep that going back up is impossible.
In short, our hiker is now alone, thirsty, without water, and hopelessly ledged-out with nightfall approaching.
Eventually, other visitors hear cries for help; at 7:30 that night, Yosemite Emergency Communications Center receives a 911 call and dispatches a YOSAR technical team. Due to terrain difficulty, YOSAR is not able to reach the hiker until the following day. YOSAR successfully completed a high-angle rescue later on Tuesday afternoon.
First: have a solid plan and stick with it. An essential part of route planning involves assessing water and nutrition requirements for the distance and possible conditions on your planned route. This leads to the second lesson learned, which is to carry more than enough water to complete your hike. Finally—and this theme recurs again and again with Yosemite SARs: stay on the established trail. Although continuing with the original route without water risked further dehydration, water would have been reached sooner than awaiting rescuers the next day and perhaps our hiker would have encountered a kind person on the trail willing to spare a little water.
Once our hiker realized his predicament, he remained in place and awaited rescue. While this solution may seem obvious, there have been other desperate ledged-out hikers in this park who suffered fatal falls by trying to force an impossible solution.
In short, make a plan, prepare for proper completion of your plan, stick with your plan, and stay on the trail.
6/13/15 - At a few minutes before 10 am, two hikers ran down Half Dome's subdome to the permit check point. They reported that a female hiker halfway up the subdome was having a severe allergic reaction, including facial swelling, vision loss, and, most concerning, difficulty breathing. They reported she had eaten something she was allergic to. The rangers contacted dispatch and ran up the trail.Let's rewind to better understand how this happened. Our hiker was headed out for the hike of a lifetime. She and her best friend were the proud winners of Half Dome permits! So they headed out early to beat the midday heat. Along the way, they wisely stopped to refuel. Her choice of snacks included an energy bar, which contained some tree nuts. The hiker was "technically" allergic to them, but had eaten them many times before in small amounts with no problem. While her doctor had prescribed her an EpiPen just in case, she had never needed to use it. (An EpiPen contains epinephrine, a lifesaving drug that reopens airways that are swelling shut due to an allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.) But hiking Half Dome is not something she did regularly and it put stress on her body that it didn't normally experience;the allergy flared like never before. Her extremities and face swelled. Her vision went. She started to pass out and collapse. But in her first aid kit, she had no epinephrine or antihistamine (e.g., Benadryl). By the time rangers reached the scene, bystanders had supplied antihistamine, which stopped the allergic reaction. But the hiker was in bad shape and her hike was over. The rangers called for the helicopter and moved her to a landing zone, where a helicopter picked her up and transported her to the Yosemite Medical Clinic.The wilderness can be unpredictable and it is best to stack the deck in your favor by preparing for your hike and taking the essentials. (This is also true when you're just driving around or taking short walks in the frontcountry.) One of those essentials is a first aid kit. People debate endlessly about what is or isn't necessary for a particular kit in a particular set of circumstances. But not up for debate are those medications prescribed by doctors that you must take at regular intervals or need in case of an emergency. Examples include: asthma medication, epinephrine and antihistamine, medications for heart conditions like angina, medications and testing equipment for diabetes, and any other medication you must take at a regular interval. You never know when you might be delayed due to weather, because you got lost or injured, or because the hike just takes longer than expected.Even a 15-minute walk up to view Bridalveil Fall is too far to be from life-saving medications should you be allergic to bees and get stung. Your first aid kit won't be helpful if it's incomplete or too far away. Cell reception is too spotty to be reliable. A ranger who can help or call in more help may be miles away when minutes are precious.No matter how short the hike or how close the car is, stack the deck in your favor. Prepare before you hit the trail. Pack the essentials. Take your medication. Hike Smart!
6/7/15 - Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a 911 call reporting that there was a subject located in the inner gorge of Yosemite Falls with a broken leg. The injured subject was a 24-year-old female who, along with three other friends,
accessed the inner gorge via the Sunnyside Bench rock scramble. At some point, she separated from her friends and took a 10- to 20-foot slide down wet granite resulting in an upper leg injury that prevented her from walking or moving.
Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) was notified of the accident and began its response. A ranger-parkmedic made a hasty ascent to the injured patient and began treatment. Due to the difficulties of accessing the patient, the decision was made to short haul her from the scene using park helicopter 551. At the same time, a second rescue team began making its way to the scene in case the short-haul operation was unsuccessful. The short-haul operation proved successful and the patient was delivered to the Ahwahnee Meadow, where a medical flight helicopter was waiting to take her to definitive care.
An excellent lesson to be learned from this accident is to never underestimate the potential for danger in a place like Yosemite. You don’t have to be miles into the backcountry for things to go wrong in a hurry. In this case, the injured subject was less than a quarter mile in a direct line from the Valley floor (and the YOSAR office). However, due to the nature of her location, a traditional carryout operation would have been extremely time consuming and dangerous for the rescuers and the patient.
Anytime you leave the developed areas of the Valley floor; whether for a hike, a technical climb, or a rock scramble, always be aware of your surroundings and be prepared for unforeseen challenges. Make sure to wear appropriate clothing and footwear and be prepared to turn around if you encounter terrain outside your comfort level.
With the unseasonably warm, sunny weather this spring, the number of hikers has risen dramatically over the past several weekends. Trails out of the Valley are open for a long way, with little snowpack, leading some adventurers to travel farther than they might normally at this time of year. We have had an unusually high number of search and rescue missions, all stemming from one common cause: leaving the trail. Here are the stories from this March in Yosemite.
Ledge-Out Near the Snow Creek Trail
On March 16th, three friends ranging in age from 19 to 32 headed up the Snow Creek trail. On the return, they left the trail above Tenaya Canyon near "Airplane Gully." As they followed what they believed to be a faint trail of rock cairns, they began descending into more and more steep, difficult terrain. Unwilling to turn around and go back, they eventually realized they had scrambled down to a ledge system that they they could not climb back out of, nor could they safely descend. Realizing they were trapped, they placed a cell phone call for help. Unfortunately, it was late in the day, and a rescue operation could not be initiated until the next morning. The subjects spent a cold night, unprepared to be out, waiting for daylight. The next morning, an aircraft from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) was requested, and two rangers were flown to within hiking distance of the stranded scramblers. The rangers were able to help the group safely descend to the landing zone, and they were flown back to Ahwahnee Meadow.
Lost and Injured Off Trail Near Lower Yosemite Fall
Less than one week later, on March 21, a group of three friends from UC Santa Barbara were visiting Yosemite for the first time. They headed for the beautiful base of Yosemite Falls as soon as they arrived and were scrambling on the boulders near the viewing area at the Lower Yosemite Fall footbridge. They had no concrete plan for the weekend, but all hoped to go hiking, maybe to the top of the falls. After about 30 minutes, two of the group members turned around in the boulder field at the base of the lower fall to look for their friend. They searched for several hours and eventually contacted rangers when it became apparent they had no idea where their friend had gone. The missing 20 year old was wearing only a sweatshirt and jeans and only had a camera (no wallet or cell phone).
Early the next morning with still no sign of the missing student, rangers began devising a plan to search the area near the lower fall, but with no direction of travel and no planned itinerary for the subject, search efforts were difficult to focus. Adding to the difficulty, the two friends, tired of waiting, disregarded the incident commander's request to stay in their campsite that morning to be interviewed for more information to guide the search. Several hours were lost trying to locate these reporting friends. Meanwhile, rangers were sent to search between the boulders at the base of the lower fall for fear he had fallen and been severely injured out of sight. Another team went to the top of Yosemite Falls to ask visitors if they had seen the subject hiking in the area. The second night after the young man went missing, a cold rain settled over the Valley accompanied by a dramatic thunderstorm. The rain continued overnight, raising the urgency of the search for the unprepared subject.
The morning of March 23, 48 hours after the subject's disappearance, 50 searchers from 4 counties responded along with YOSAR personnel, and were deployed into the Valley to assist with contacting the public to establish a simple direction of travel and enlist visitors' help with the search. At approximately 11 am, these efforts paid off when a visitor spotted the missing man amidst a pile of boulders, suffering from hypothermia and severely injured after a large fall, less than half mile from the base of the lower fall.
Based on the photos found in his camera, it is believed the search subject attempted to scramble up higher along Sunnyside bench, possibly to get better pictures, or possibly to shortcut to the Yosemite Point area. He had fallen over 50 feet and suffered severe injuries. Investigators believe he may have crawled toward the trail in the night and sought shelter from the rain among the boulders. He remains in critical but stable condition.
Lost Off Trail Near the Yosemite Falls Trail
Finally, a third group of friends was hiking down the Yosemite Falls Trail on Friday, March 27th, when they decided the main trail would take too long to descend. They scrambled down from the trail toward the inner gorge, which separates the upper fall from the lower fall. They became separated in their scramble down the slope and two of them became stranded or lost in different locations along the edge of the gorge. The third member of the party was in Camp 4 after dark, when he reported his friends missing from a borrowed phone. He did not however, stay put for the rangers to speak with him further, hampering efforts to launch rescue operations due to insufficient information. Rangers responded in the dark to the lower fall area and could hear screams for help, but could not tell where they were coming from over the din of the waterfall. Eventually, a rescue team was able to locate one of the missing subjects near the inner gorge on Sunnyside Bench and guide him to safety. The final missing subject could not be located, but a fire among the cliffs at the lip of the lower fall provided the evidence searchers needed that their subject was still stranded. Unable to communicate over the water or reach the subject in the dark, rangers were forced to wait until morning. The subject spent a long cold night, unprepared, in the cold mist of the waterfall.
Early the next morning, CHP was again requested, and a YOSAR rescuer was hoisted to the stranded hiker's location. He was extracted via hoist and flown to Ahwahnee Meadow. He was uninjured, but hypothermic and scared.
The lessons learned from these three incidents are classic, but bear repeating, as they are the most common causes of injuries and fatalities in Yosemite. All of the subjects had left developed trails looking for shortcuts or better views. All had become stranded or injured doing so. None were prepared to spend a night out and most did not have headlamps or whistles to help rescuers locate them. The reporting parties in two instances did not stay in their campsites when requested to do so, delaying the efforts of rangers to gather enough information to launch viable search efforts. In one case, that delay could have cost their missing friend his life.
Yosemite's trails are some of the most spectacular and best maintained in the National Park System. They are, in every case, the shortest, safest path of least resistance to return to the trailhead. Even when hiking on developed trails, always carry a headlamp, a whistle, and at least a warm jacket in the event you are delayed getting back. Something as seemingly benign as a sprained ankle can lead to a hike ending later than planned, well after darkness falls and many hikers have become stranded overnight for simple lack of a headlamp. Being prepared reduces the fear and urgency of being out in the dark, making staying on the trail more appealing, and making it easier to resist the temptation to short cut.
Yosemite's hiking season is off to a glorious early start. Enjoy safe travels on the trails as they are some of the most beautiful in the world!
February - 2/14/15 - 23-year-old male backpacker was hiking along the rim of Yosemite Valley near Dewey Point. Upon reaching the point, overwhelmed with the spectacular view, he decided to attempt to access another spire just a little farther out. This effort required some scrambling, and he ultimately fell down the slope, sustaining a broken arm and several more minor injuries.
While he was able to get back to the trail, he was unable to carry his pack. He decided to leave it and head west along the trail to Tunnel View to seek help. Fortuitously, he encountered a ranger hiking in the area, who was able to help him out the last two miles to the road. The Yosemite Valley ambulance crew met the pair at the trailhead and transported the patient to the Yosemite Medical Clinic for care.
Upon speaking with the subject, he was most anxious to convey to other Yosemite hikers and backpackers that, if they choose to hike alone, they assume additional risks in doing so. With that in mind, they should do all in their power to mitigate any further risks along the way. He left the trail and entered loose, steep, difficult terrain—a choice that could have been deadly if he had not been able to stop his fall. He suggested that those travelling alone should "have a little more humility," and recognize they are far from help if things do not go as planned.
While hiking solo is not advised, it is often a long-held preference for those who are experienced and capable of doing so. This gentleman's advice sums up the best strategy: recognize the risk inherent in solo travel and accept no further risks. This means staying on the trail, making sure people know where you are going and when you will be home, and avoiding dangerous situations such as exposed cliffs and stream crossings. Cell phone coverage is poor throughout most of Yosemite and even satellite tracking systems have a track record of failure within the park, so counting on help arriving or someone finding you if you are seriously injured may not be a realistic plan.
This hiker fortunate enough to be able to walk after his fall. He did a great job taking responsibility for his mistakes and working to self-rescue. However, had he been farther in the wilderness, unable to walk further, or unable to reach help before nightfall, his situation could have deteriorated rapidly. We appreciate his candor and willingness to share his story.