American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Bad Weather, Inadequate Equipment, California, Yosemite Valley

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


California, Yosemite Valley

Stanley Garrison (22) and John Suttle (25) stated that they had hiked to the base of Half Dome on Friday and began climbing Saturday morning, October 28. They ascended at an adequate rate, bivouacking at the top of the eighth pitch Saturday night and on Big Sandy Ledge Sunday night. Early Monday morning it began snowing intermittently. They kept warm in their Dacron sleeping bags and down parkas. Between snow flurries they climbed one pitch and returned to Big Sandy, then reascended the line and climbed one more pitch. At 11 a.m. on Monday, they bivouacked at that place, just four pitches below the summit (an A1 pitch to Thank God Ledge, an Al, 5.6 pitch, an A3 pitch, and an A1 pitch). By Tuesday morning, the storm had ended, leaving one to two inches of snow on the ledges. The rock cleft in which they were bivouacked had protected them from the brunt of the storm, so they were uncomfortable but warm. Seeing cloudy skies overhead, they began yelling for help. At 6:50 a.m. on Tuesday, an unidentified jogger at Mirror Lake heard cries for help from the Half Dome area and notified dispatch. At 7:20 a.m. Ranger McCampbell arrived at Mirror Lake, followed shortly by Ranger Olsen. By asking questions and requesting shout-don’t shout answers with the patrol vehicle loudspeakers, the rangers established that there were two individuals high on the face of Half Dome who were uninjured but in need of help. At 8:35 a.m. rescue personnel and the Park contract helicopter crew were notified.

At 10:06 a.m. the first of two helicopter loads of equipment and personnel landed on Half Dome. Search and Rescue Technician Dill was lowered over the lip of the visor using the standard Yosemite lowering system of two independent ropes (600 feet by 11 millimeters), anchors, and carabiner brakes with Gibbs’ ascenders as brake backups. Edge rollers were used to minimize rope abrasion and edge friction. At noon, after a 200-foot lowering, Dill reached the victims. Conditions on the face were cold, dry, relatively calm, with snow on some ledges. According to Dill, the victims showed no signs of hypothermia. They were rational, conversant, and able to perform normal manual functions. The pair began ju- maring, each on one rescue rope with a safety line to the other rope. At 1:30 p.m. they reached the summit. Dill followed on Jumars while summit personnel pulled the victims’ haul bag to the top. By 2:10 p.m. all personnel had been transported by helicopter to the Ahwahnee Meadow. (Source: Tim Setnicka)


Both climbers were experienced 5.10 plus climbers as well as having done a number of walls in Yosemite such as the Salathe Wall and North American Wall. The two took pride in not carrying any pitons or hammers because “we don’t believe in them.”

All went fine until a small period of rain and snow caused the two to bivouac 250 feet from the top of the climb. During the storm they were unable to climb the remaining four pitches to the top which included two A1 pitches, one A3 and one A1 5.6 pitch. The storm had left one to two inches of snow on the ledges. The two felt they could not climb up and did not try because of the snow cover. They felt that they could not retreat because they couldn’t reverse the pendulum on the tenth pitch. So they yelled for help after the storm had ended.

Both climbers had no raingear, no gloves, no hammers, bolts, or pitons. They decided against trying to climb up or down. When asked why they didn’t have a piton rack, they replied they didn’t like to use pitons because they damage the rock. The two also stated that they didn’t believe in using bolts or in carrying them, but it is to be noted that they had climbed on at least 15 existing bolts on various pitches in order to reach the position from which they were rescued.

In general, climbing Yosemite’s big walls at this time of year can necessitate the use of hammer and pitons, as well as foul weather clothing. Additionally, this particular route could have been rappelled, thus avoiding an unnecessary rescue. A further point to note is that one of the climbers identified himself as a climbing instructor for Sonoma State College, which raises the question of whether he is also able to teach students how to extricate themselves from dangerous climbing situations which, like this one, can inevitably arise. (Source: Tim Setnicka, Yosemite National Park)

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