American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Inadequate Protection, No Hard Hat, California, Yosemite Valley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987


California, Yosemite Valley

On the morning of June 28,1986, Erik Goukas (23) and Douglas McDonald hiked to the base of Higher Cathedral Rock to attempt the first continuous free ascent of the Pratt/Kelsey Route. They began climbing at 0820.

Between 0915 and 0930, Goukas was leading the third pitch. He was about 30 meters above, and out of sight of belayer McDonald, when he experienced a leader fall of approximately 20 meters. McDonald stated that as he belayed Goukas during the fall, he looked up and observed Goukas come to a stop in an upright position, perhaps ten meters above him. Goukas had not spoken during the fall, and did not respond to McDonald after the fall. McDonald tied off the rope, and ascended it to Goukas. He was nonresponsive. McDonald lowered him to the belay ledge and then rappelled and hiked to the valley floor where he contacted Ranger Grady Bryant on Southside Drive at 1012.

By 1030 a hasty team led by Ranger/Park Medic Mike Murray was enroute to Goukas, the Park’s helicopter was being dispatched, and a Huey helicopter with winch capabilities from Lemoore Naval Air Station had been requested.

Ranger Murray’s team arrived at Goukas about 1115. Murray reported Goukas as breathing but unconscious, suffering apparent head injuries. With Yosemite Medical Clinic’s approval, Goukas was administered oxygen, spinal precautions were taken, MAST trousers were placed but not inflated, and an IV of Ringer’s Lactate was initiated. During this period, a second ground team arrived on-scene with additional equipment, the Park’s helicopter was preparing for a “short haul” (suspension of the litter, by rope, under the helicopter), Lemoore was enroute, and a Medi-Flight helicopter had been requested.

At 1242, as the Park’s helicopter was hovering in preparation of attaching to the litter, Goukas stopped breathing. CPR was initiated, sodium bicarbonate and epinephrine were administered. Because it was not possible to continue effective CPR during the short haul, the Park’s helicopter was cancelled. Lemoore lowered a crewman to Goukas’ location, and with the assistance of this person, CPR was performed during the winch and transport.

About 1330, Lemoore landed with Goukas. Goukas was pronounced dead by Yosemite Medical Clinic staff at 1350. (Source: Hugh Dougher, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)


McDonald stated that he had known Goukas for about one year. They had climbed together three times previously.

Goukas placed perhaps four pieces of protection on the pitch. The uppermost piece, a moderate sized Friend, held the fall. Several lower pieces “popped out” during the fall.

The pitch followed a shallow right facing corner with a vertical crack that allowed for good placement of protection. The face was near vertical. The difficulty is estimated to be 5.10, well within Goukas’ abilities. Goukas may have been doing a lay-back and his foot could have slipped due to the large amount of lichen on the wall. He was climbing steadily at the time of the fall and had given McDonald no indication that he was having a difficult time.

Goukas had a tendency to climb with long distances between protection. McDonald estimated the length of the fall to be 12 meters. Subsequent investigation indicated the fall to be closer to 22 meters. Goukas came to a stop about ten meters above McDonald at an area where the cliff was less steep. The cliff was shallow enough to support Goukas’ weight. In order to lower Goukas, McDonald had to haul him with a rope.

He was not wearing a helmet. His harness consisted of a three meter swami belt of 7.5 centimeter tubular webbing. (Source: Hugh Dougher, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

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