American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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California: Sierra Nevada, Yosemite National Park

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1952

California: Sierra Nevada, Yosemite National Park.

The following five accidents in this park in 1951 were reported to the American Alpine Club Safety Committee.

(1) On 8 May 1951 Jerry WoIschon, 20, of Detroit, Michigan, received a compound dislocation of his right ankle and multiple bruises in an accident which occurred at a point about 1,000 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley near the base of Upper Yosemite Falls. lie slipped off a rocky ledge, falling about 30 feet, only to strike another ledge, bounce off it and then fall another 25 feet. He landed in a live oak tree which prevented him from plummeting to certain death. Wolschon and his companion, Pernard Harrington, also of Detroit, had left the trail up which they were hiking and started to cut across the rocky ledges when he fell. This was the first time the boys had been in the west and they wanted to "explore". Theelement of danger apparently never entered their minds. Rescue operations, conducted by 19 National Park Service men were extremely difficult due to wet slippery rocks at the base of the waterfalls.

(2) On 1 July 1951 two young men, Lyle D. Ottele, 19, and Richard Johnson, 18, of Long Beach, California, were stranded on a rock ledge 300 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley just east of Yosemite Falls. They had reached a position where they could not get up or down the cliff. Rangers, with ropes and climbing gear, rescued them after two hours work on the spray-drenced cliff. Neither of the boys had any mountaineering equipment and had no experience in rock climbing. They had not registered or obtained any information before attempting the climb.

On 8 July 1951 a 14-year-old boy, Gerald Herman of Long Beach, California, fell off the rocky ledges near the base of Upper Yosemite falls and landed on another ledge about 50 feet below. He suffered severe abrasions of his arms, legs and body, as well as a head concussion and shock. Rangers rescued him with the use of ropes and stretcher.

This was another case of an uninitiated youth trying to explore rocky cliffs off the trail and not realizing the danger.

On 24 July 1951 Michael R. McClory, age 11, of Lake Bluff, Illinois, fell and broke his leg while climbing large boulders at the base of Bridalveil Falls. Rangers carried him down to the trail on a stretcher.

Another case of a young boy trying to climb rocks off a trail.

On 6 October 1951 Gene Herb, 21, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was rescued from a ledge near the base of Upper Yosemite Falls where he had become stranded and could not get up or down. He called for help and Rangers pulled him up about 75 feet with the use of ropes.

This also was an instance of a young man cutting across rocky cliffs away from a trail and getting on a rock bench from which he could neither return nor proceed.

Source of information: report, Superintendent of Yosemite National Park.

Analysis. Fortunately none of these accidents turned out to be fatalities as has happened in other years. The National Park authorities in Yosemite have tried to prevent such accidents by means of numerous warning signs placed at the base of all main cliff trails and by notices placed on all bulletin boards. All the accidents reported from Yosemite could have been avoided, if the person involved had followed the rules of the Park. Many tourists and especially youngsters do not realize the danger in trying to explore off the trails. One is impressed by the number of difficult and dangerous rescue operations which the rangers in Yosemite Park are required to carry out as a result of the actions of unwary and sometimes irresponsible visitors. To the extent that organized mountaineering clubs can reach potential climbers and combat the false aspects of drama and heroics which "Hollywood" and the

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