American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rock, Poor Position, California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1992


California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

On May 15, 1991, at 2030, I interviewed Karin Olson’s (23) climbing partner, Leo Henson (29) at Yosemite Medical Clinic. (Olson was being treated for her injuries and was unavailable for interview.) Henson said that he scrambled up a 30-foot high chimney at the base of the climb, then belayed Olson as she climbed the chimney. Henson said that Olson then anchored herself to a tree and belayed Henson as he began to ascend the East Buttress route. He said that when he had climbed approximately ten feet above and ten feet to the right, they heard “rock” yelled from above and immediately crouched to avoid rockfall. Henson said that Olson was struck in the back of the neck by a grapefruit-sized rock, was knocked off her seat by the blow, and came up tight on her anchor.

Henson said that there were three other climbing parties on the East Buttress route within the first three or four pitches. He said that after the uppermost party descended and reached the accident scene, an unidentified member of that party said that he had accidentally knocked a rock loose around the time of the accident.

Henson said that neither he nor Olsen was wearing a helmet. He says that Olson had been climbing regularly for two years and he has been climbing regularly for ten years. Henson said that he had completed several climbing trips to Yosemite in the past, but that this was Olson’s first climb in Yosemite. He said that neither of them had climbed the East Buttress route before. Henson said that he and Olson had some concern about crowding with four parties on the lower part of the route, but said that they felt their luck would be okay. (Source: David Brennan, Park Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

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