American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Climbing Alone and Unroped, California, Mount Clark

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


California, Mount Clark

Michael Kalantarian (30) intended to climb the Northwest Arete of Mount Clark on October 15,1986. He had obtained the route description from The Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra, by Steve Roper, in which it is listed as Class 4; however, he did not intend to use rope and did not take any.

His approach took him just south of Starr King Meadow, across hills 8273 and 8963, where he camped Tuesday night. He planned on making the climb on Wednesday and returning to Yosemite Valley the same day, by either Starr King Lake to Nevada Falls or one of the steep drainages to the north. After getting a late start Wednesday morning, he hid his pack at the north end of the ridge leading to the arete and headed for the climb. He was wearing a bunting jacket and bunting pants, polypropylene long underwear, a cotton long sleeved shirt, wool socks and leather boots. He carried a bit of food, a knife, water bottle, glacier glasses, and a map. He reached the start of the Class 4 section at 1500. Because of the difficulty of the route, he would have to come down the Southeast Arete, putting him about three kilometers from his pack. It was late and he carried no light or matches; however, he decided to continue.

The Route at this point follows a shady north-facing corner, thus it was covered with snow and ice from earlier fall storms. This forced him to the left as he climbed, onto more difficult rock. (The search team suffered the same fate, and reported the difficulty to be about 5.7. They used ropes and protection.) Rather than retreating, he became “obsessed” with climbing–until he fell off. He estimates he fell 20 meters down a slab, and lost consciousness for perhaps an hour. When he regained his senses, he found himself draped in a low shrubby tree, with a cut on his head and what he felt were a broken right wrist and right ankle. His water bottle, hat, and glacier glasses were gone and he did not find them.

He knew he had to reach his pack, approximately 2½ kilometers to the northwest, and, until he was found six days later, that was his goal. The terrain along the ridge was so difficult, however, that he was forced down-slope to the west at first. He could stand up occasionally, and even put weight on his injured ankle, but most of his locomotion was by crawling. It was also difficult to keep his bearings because of obstacles, even when he stood up, but he knew how to tell direction from the sun and stars and figured he was heading on the right course.

The temperatures dropped below freezing every night, hitting -12°C at least once (based on recordings at Tioga Pass). Having no hat, he wrapped his cotton shirt around his head. (He feels this made a significant difference in his survival.) He spent days crawling to sunny, open areas (ridgetops) and his nights by water. Without his bottle, getting water was a problem. He found drips and seeps, and as he got lower, he eventually found little streams.

He was not aware when or how the frostbite started, but thinks that dipping his good hand into water for a drink at night probably contributed to it. His bunting jacket had a double-entry front hand-warmer pocket, but this was apparently not enough, nor were his wool socks and boots. The affected parts probably thawed and refroze daily, which did not help his chances for recovery.

Eighteen units participated in the search and rescue, and the victim was located on October 21 at 1322. When found, Kalantarian was conscious and in stable condition, complaining of wrist, ankle, and frostbite injuries. After being treated by a Park Medic at the scene, he was flown to the Yosemite clinic at 1634 and then to Valley Medical Center in Fresno. It is our opinion that he would not have lasted many more days, and would probably not have reached civilization on his own. (He has since lost both legs below the knee and half of each of four fingers of his left hand to frostbite.) (Source. John Dill, SAR Technician, Yosemite National Park)

(Editor’s Note: A comment regarding solo travel has already been made.)

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