American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

California, Sierra Nevada, Rae Lakes

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1972

California, Sierra Nevada, Rae Lakes. On 4 April Keith Stampher (18) and Randy Jolly (17) proceeded to the Rae Lakes area from their homes near Santa Barbara. Two days later and two 12,000-foot passes later, they reached their destination at the upper end of the lake system where they spent a comfortable night. They carried good down sleeping bags, a tent, down jackets etc. and both were active in high school athletics.

On the evening of the second night at the lakes, Keith had shown a little trouble breathing and also unusually evident effects of altitude. During the night he slept poorly and by morning it was decided that they should return to a lower elevation since he thought he might be developing high altitude pulmonary edema. Unfortunately, it took four days to travel the distance out due to Keith’s increasing illness, and on the fourth day he had to be carried out by hikers near the road end at Onion Valley.

When taken to the Lone Pine Hospital, he was diagnosed as having advanced pneumonia and immediately put at bed rest on oxygen and antibiotics. Fortunately, his father (a physician) persuaded the hospital staff to consider pulmonary edema, and proper medication was supplied. His condition remained critical for five days and ultimately he was released to his father’s care. He returned home where he recuperated with only the loss of the tips of two toes due to frostbite.

Source: Keith Stampher.

Analysis: Apparently, few cases of high altitude pulmonary edema are reported in the continental states, and when they do occur some are diagnosed as pneumonia. Again, attention should be drawn to any unusual difficulty to acclimatization even at lower elevations of 11,000 or 12,000 feet. A different outcome might have been expected if more than two climbers had been along.

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