American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rock, Failure to Follow Route, No Hard Hat, California, Yosemite Valley

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

FALLING ROCK, FAILURE TO FOLLOW ROUTE, NO HARD HAT California, Yosemite Valley

On August 5, 1987, Young Soon Lee (35) was with a party of five Korean climbers attempting the Northwest Face on Half Dome. Sometime before 2000 Choong Hyun Ji and Lee were fixing the first two pitches of the Northwest Face (regular) of Half Dome. Lee was tied into anchors on a small ledge at the top of the first pitch. Ji led out approximately 15 meters. Possibly realizing that he was off route, Ji began to traverse north (face left). In doing so he dislodged a rock with his foot. This rock fell straight down severing the climbing rope and shattering directly above or in front of Lee. A large fragment struck Lee’s left occipital region resulting in significant tissue trauma. Additional fragments caused significant abrasions on the left shoulder and upper arm and the left thigh region.

One of the other members of the party immediately left to report the accident at the Little Yosemite Valley (LYV) ranger station. At 2121, LYV rangers received the report of the accident and Ranger Timmcr responded on foot to the scene. He arrived at 2344 and found Lee dead. The other members of Lee’s team had lowered Lee to the ground. (Source: Kim Aufhauser, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

Analysis

The autopsy found that Lee had suffered one long temporal skull fracture and several smaller fractures in the front basilar portion of his skull. The fractures were not depressed or significantly displaced and there was no major subcranial bleeding. No other major injuries were noted. A doctor familar with the case feels that Lee might have survived these injuries had he been closer to medical help.

Based on the degree of injury found, it seems that a helmet would very likely have saved his life. This is not the case in most Yosemite climbing fatalities, but we strongly recommend helmets for routes on Half Dome. Rockfall accidents are common there, and the patient is far from help. For more on this see Yosemite Climbs, Meyers and Reid, 1987, p. 13 (Source: John Dill, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

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