American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded – Exposure

California, Yosemite National Park, El Capitan

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year: 1970
  • Publication Year: 1971

On October 17, Mike Caldwell (20) and Don Fredrickson (27) started up the West Buttress route. Short days slowed their progress, but after three consecutive hammock bivouacs they had surmounted all of the major technical difficulties of the route except for the A4 traverse above the Grand Traverse. They awoke on the 20th in high spirits. Caldwell led half the A4 traverse hoping to beat the rain but was unable to do so. Fredrickson cleaned the pitch. By the time he reached Caldwell on a small ledge both were soaked to the skin. Caldwell placed a bolt and rappelled to a small terrace below the Grand Traverse. Fredrickson followed and they spent the rest of the day shivering in the cold while they attempted to dry their wet gear. Their support party warned them of a coming storm. Their position had too much overhang to descend by rappel, and they were too chilled to sit out a storm so they requested a rescue. Fredrickson also seemed to have an injury to his eye. The rescue operation was a bit tricky due to the distance (1,750 feet) required to affect the rescue. Half of this was vertical and required direct-aid techniques. Two parallel lines greatly expedited the movement of the 21 members of the rescue operation. The rescue was completed by 22 October at which time two inches of snow had fallen on the summit of El Capitan. As Caldwell said—“Had it not been for the hard work of all present on the rescue, I fear we might not have survived until morning.” (Source: Pete Thompson, YNP Ranger; Mike Caldwell.)


They had tried to equip themselves adequately for the technical difficulties of the route and to the possibility of bad weather. They could have had more and better foul-weather gear.

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