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Fall on Rock, Failure to Follow Route, Party Separated, California, Yosemite Valley


California, Yosemite Valley

On January 1, Marvin Johnson (13) and Kendall West (20), novice climbers, were doing a mixed 3-4 class nondescript route on the lower half portion of the western shoulder of Half Dome, north side. At the top of their intended climb, they traversed west and then made 300 feet of rappels in an effort to get off. The final rappel ended on a small (three feet wide by 15 feet long) ledge. Their 150- foot, 11 millimeter rope became stuck and was not retrievable. Probably realizing the predicament, Kendall West, the most experienced, attempted to climb down about 20 feet to a relatively much larger ledge. This was done unroped. Johnson did not hear or see West fall. West probably took his fatal fall while trying to downclimb to this larger ledge. He fell a distance of about 1000 feet. The 13- year-old second climber (after spending the night) was rescued from his small stance by a helicopter. A Navy crewchief rappelled 75-100 feet down to the boy from a hovering helicopter and attached him to his system. The helicopter then flew the two of them, while suspended below the helicopter, to the Ahwahnee Meadow. (Source: Charles Farabee, Jr., Yosemite National Park)


This accident may have been avoided entirely if the climbers had rappelled their climbing route. At least they would have had some idea of where the rappel route went. Instead, they chose to start rappelling down onto an unknown face. The face got steeper and steeper and the natural anchor points less and less. The wall became overhanging. Once committed, with their minimal equipment and lack of experience, they quickly got hung up. Instead of both staying together and yelling for help, one decided to do another rappel and then to downclimb while not being clipped in or belayed. (Source: Tim Setnicka, Yosemite National Park)