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Fall on Descent Trail, Weather, California, Yosemite Valley, North Dome Gully


California, Yosemite Valley, North Dome Gully

On May 13, 1991, after having completed an overnight climb of the Royal Arches, Carter Phelps (49) and climbing partner Ron Merkes (23) attempted to descend to Yosemite Valley via the North Dome gully. After only a short way into the descent, Phelps, who was following Merkes, slipped and fell approximately 150 to 200 feet. Neither was roped up at this time. Merkes reported that he heard Phelps yell, “I’m off.” He then heard Phelps bouncing down the side of the cliff, and saw him come to rest on a ledge below. Merkes immediately rappelled down to Phelps, about one and a half rope lengths, which took about 20 to 30 minutes. Upon reaching Phelps, Merkes observed him to be unconscious, and badly injured. Merkes reported observing significant head, arm, and leg trauma to Phelps’ body.

Merkes attempted to resuscitate Phelps, without success. He, Merkes, reported that Phelps was not breathing, apparently had fixed and dilated pupils, and had no palpable pulse that Merkes could locate. Merkes stated later that he believed that Phelps was dead at this time. (Source: James Tucker, Park Ranger, Yosemite National Park)


This is a commonly used descent route, and is normally done unroped. These climbers had ascended in darkness, but were descending in daylight. However, the trail was wet and icy due to a recent storm. Such conditions warrant the consideration of a rope. (Source: Jed Williamson)