LOOSE ROCK, FALL ON ROCK, INADEQUATE PROTECTION
California, Yosemite Valley
On June 11, 1981, Shift Supervisor John Daley received a report from climber Fred East that he had heard cries for help on El Capitan. East had been at the base of El Capitan preparing for a climb at 7:00 a.m. He said that he heard cries for help coming from climbers approximately 1000 feet from the top of El Capitan on the Pacific Ocean Wall route (Y.D.S. IV, 5.9, A5). Mike Tschipper (20) and Ward Robinson (28) told East that Tschipper had fallen and had injured his ankle and needed to be rescued. East went to the Valley District Office and relayed this information to Daley. Daley dispatched Rangers Durr and Thompson with the size-up equipment to the El Capitan Meadow to check on the injured parties. Durr made contact with the injured climbers and ascertained that one climber, Tschipper, had an injured ankle, but that they were on a large ledge and were in a stable place. Durr returned to the rescue cache and notified SAR Officer Grovert; a rescue effort was undertaken. The Naval Air Station was notified and placed on standby, and the contract helicopter was dispatched to the Ahwahnee Meadow. Several climbers from Camp 4 were contacted and requested to go to the rescue cache. Rangers Taylor and Reilly were dispatched to the El Capitan area to act as spotters. Durr was assigned to be in charge of rescue operations on the scene. Several loads of personnel and equipment were then flown to the top of El Capitan to begin rescue efforts.
Thompson and climber Williams were lowered to the victim where they stabilized his injuries and prepared him to be raised to the top. At 3:00 p.m. the victim was on top of El Capitan. He was carried to the landing site and flown to the Ahwahnee Meadow.
These are the events leading up to the accident as described by Robinson:
“Mike began leading the 21st pitch. He climbed straight up about 15 feet and started looking for some protection; finding none he proceeded upward another 10 to 15 feet and grabbed a large hold and finding it very loose, he jumped off. He fell 20 to 30 feet and bounced off the ledge, feet first, and fell another 30 or 40 feet for a total of a 50- to 70-foot fall. When I caught the fall, the force pulled me off the ledge because I didn’t clip the lead rope into the belay. After reorienting, I yelled down to Mike and found out he was okay except for his left ankle. Mike jumared back up to the ledge on his own and we decided to yell for help.” (Source: Hall Grovert, SAR Officer, Yosemite National)
When I arrived on the scene, I found all their gear very well organized and a bomber belay set up: 5 bolts and 1 dowel.
In my opinion, Tschipper did the best thing by jumping off rather than pulling the block off and hurting his partner. The block was 1' × 2' × 6?. They made one big mistake which resulted in Ward (the belayer) being pulled off the ledge. No one clipped the lead rope into the belay! (Source: Michael Durr, SAR Ranger, Yosemite National Park)