American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Inadequate Food and Clothing, Exposure, Weather, California, Yosemite Valley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1986


California, Yosemite Valley

On November 10, 1985, Dan Canton reported to the Valley District rangers that his friend, Carlo Zozikyan (31) who had been climbing alone on the Zodiac route (YDS VI) on El Capitan for the last ten days, was still several pitches from the top, and was probably out of food. An early winter storm had struck late Saturday night and it was still snowing. However, Canton felt that Zozikyan had sufficient equipment to sit out the storm. Canton was simply alerting us, since Zozikyan had not asked for a rescue.

On November 11 the storm had cleared. Canton and Ranger Chris Bachmeyer contacted Zozikyan. Zozikyan stated that he was indeed out of food, but was warm and dry and would be able to finish the climb without help. At this time he was bivouacked at the end of pitch 12, with four pitches left to climb. The weather remained cloudy and cold.

On November 12, between 0800 and 0900, Canton and Bachmeyer contacted Zozikyan again. This time he stated that he was cold and could not climb without food, although he could survive for some days in his shelter, if necessary. Because of his condition and the overhanging wall below (over 300 meters high), Zozikyan was unable to simply rappel to the ground. The weather was deteriorating so we decided to rescue him as soon as possible.

The simplest and fastest solution was to deliver food and clothing to Zozikyan by helicopter, then let him climb out on his own, and this was selected as the primary plan. As a backup, a rope rescue team was assembled, to be flown or hike to the top of El Capitan and lower a rescuer to him.

A rescue helicopter from NAS Lemoore was in the Valley at the time to participate in a search for overdue hikers; it was reassigned to the rescue. At 1420, the helicopter succeeded in lowering a pack full of the necessary supplies to Zozikyan. The backup team was demobilized.

Zozikyan rested at pitch 12 for one more day, regaining his strength. Then he spent four more days on the climb. During that time, he was hit by another brief storm, but finished the climb without difficulty. (Source: John Dill, SAR Ranger, Yosemite National Park)


Prior to this incident, Zozikyan had been climbing for four years, and had done several multi-routes in Yosemite, although none in the stormy weather. He had also climbed several mountaineering routes in the Cascades and in Canada, often in stormy conditions. He rated his technical skills at YDS 5.10, A4, which is adequate for the climb.

Although he had taken enough food for the climb, he found, half-way up, that he was eating more than expected. He was also climbing more slowly than he had anticipated and was significantly delayed on the third pitch because he lacked hangers and nuts for a long bolt ladder. Consequently he began rationing his food after a few days and ran out completely by the end of pitch 10. He did not consider retreating because he was more than half way up and had successfully gone without food before. He had plenty of water, which he felt was more important.

The storm hit him Saturday night, his eleventh day on the climb, at the top of pitch 12. His “porta-ledge” (homemade, by someone else) kept him dry, but he was unable to sleep because the wind tossed him around. Eventually the frame of his “ledge” cracked, but it held together.

Underestimating the duration and intensity of storms on El Capitan, he had taken marginal clothing: a light down bag, a poor rain jacket, no pad, hat, gloves, or rain pants. During the storm he stayed warm initially, but by Tuesday, he was cold. He hadn’t moved for two days, waiting for the weather to improve, and was now weak from several days’ lack of food. Although he felt he could finish on his own in warm weather, neither he nor his equipment could withstand continued cold weather or another storm and he realized a rescue was prudent. (Source: John Dill, SAR Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

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