American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Bad Weather, Fatigue, California, Yosemite Valley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1979


California, Yosemite Valley

On March 31, Joel Seton (16) and Jeffrey Inman (17) got stuck on The Nose of El Cap. At 4:30 p.m., Ranger Griffiths received a report that someone was calling for help from the Nose route on El Capitan. Griffiths and Rousseau drove to El Cap Meadow and established communication, using a PA system and the Questar. Both climbers signalled they were OK. They appeared to be well equipped and settling in for the night. They were located just below the Gray Bands about two-thirds of the way up the route. The weather had been rainy for two days. About one-half hour after Griffiths had returned to the east valley, he received another report of the climbers calling for help. Rangers Griffiths, Dill, Setnicka and Rousseau returned to the area. This time it was understood that the climbers were too wet and tired to continue, and that they couldn’t reverse the King Swing pendulum so they could retreat. They were told that they were near a rappel route and that we would return in the morning and talk them down.

At 8 a.m. Dill and Griffiths returned to El Capitan Meadow and proceeded to talk the two climbers down the wall using the PA system, and the Questar to locate anchor points. Setnicka arrived about midmorning and remained the rest of the day. At one point one of the climbers yelled down that his companion was sick. He was able to continue the descent, and he later reported that he felt better as the day progressed. The climbers reached the bottom at 4:30 p.m. and were taken to the SAR Office for an interview. Both climbers reported they got wet and cold from condensation, rain, and water running down the wall. They called for help because they didn’t know the location of the rappel route and couldn’t reverse the pendulum. They thought that the sickness was caused from eating food they found on El Capitan Tower. They also stated that they drank water running down the wall. They admitted to a lack of big wall experience and to being a little psyched. (Source: Thomas Griffiths, Yosemite National Park)


Seton and Inman were experienced free climbers but had not successfully completed a Grade VI. This was to be another attempt. The two climbed slowly but steadily until bad weather stopped them. They were relatively well prepared for bad weather and wrote on their voluntary registration card “we are capable of retreat.” The problem was they got too wet and tired and could not reverse the “King Swing” on the climb.

By loudspeaker they were advised they didn’t have to reverse the route; that they could easily rappel down and off an established route from their present location. By using a loudspeaker and telescope, directions were given them on how far down the next anchor point was. In this way they were able to get themselves off the wall. Better prior planning of retreat possibilities would have eliminated the need for government assistance. (Source: Tim J. Setnicka, Yosemite National Park)

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