American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Hypothermia, Weather, Inadequate Equipment, California, Yosemite National Park, Polly Dome

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1988

HYPOTHERMIA, WEATHER, INADEQUATE EQUIIPMENT

California, Yosemite National Park, Polly Dome

On May 16, 1987, at 1445, three climbers at the top of the third pitch of the Great White Book on Polly Dome were requesting assistance after having been caught in a hail-and-rain storm. Ranger Mead Hargis organized equipment and personnel, and a rescue team left Tuolumne SAR Cache with the ambulance at 1500.

At Polly Dome it was learned the climbing party had begun their climb about 1030 to 1100 and had reached the end of the fourth pitch of Great White Book when a storm caught them. On the rescue party’s arrival, the climbers had lowered themselves to the top of the second pitch. Subdistrict Ranger Gill used a PA to direct Chris Perry (27) and David Vinson (30) to lower the hypothermic climber, John Page (30), down to lead rescue climber Mark Butler. Page then rappelled to Butler who lowered him to Hargis and Hannon. Hannon then lowered Hargis who assisted Page down a final pitch where he was placed in the Tuolumne ambulance, warmed, and transported to the Tuolumne SAR Cache for food and hot drink. Page was treated and released by Tuolumne medics.

Gill directed the final two climbcrs down on a self-rescue to the ledge after the rescue of Page was completed. (Source: Duncan Hollar, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

Analysis

Perry and Vinson were wearing raingear and/or warm clothes and were in good shape when they reached the ground. Page was not so well equipped. As the rangers waited for Page to reach them, he rappelled very slowly, getting colder all the while, and he spent ten minutes trying to unjam the twisted rope from his brake, while hanging out of Butler’s reach. By the time he reached Hargis, one pitch up, he had lost most of his coordination and virtually collapsed into Hargis’ arms. Hargis had to carry most of Page’s weight as Hannon lowered them the rest of the way down the slabs.

In most cases, lowering a cold patient is better than letting him rappel. You don’t rely quite so much on the patient’s brainpower or strength and, as is illustrated here, he can deteriorate suddenly. Page could have made a fatal error or wound up hanging helplessly in the middle of a pitch. Had one of the two functioning members of the party been lowered with Page to help him past any tricky spots, or rappelled first to receive Page at each anchor, the party might have descended more quickly, with a greater margin of safety and with no need for help.

This incident occurred within sight and earshot of other climbers on the road. On many, more remote, Tuolumne climbs it could have been far more serious. (Source: John Dill, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

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