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Falling Rock, California, Yosemite Valley, Leaning Tower


California, Yosemite Valley, Leaning Tower

On July 5, 1992, I spoke with Brad Young (32) at the Yosemite Medical Clinic about a climbing accident that he and his climbing partner Doug Burton (age not noted) were involved in on the Leaning Tower.

Young told me that they started on the climb from the Bridalveil Parking Lot at 0900. They walked from the lot and arrived at the base of the climb at 1230. Young led the first and fourth pitches as described in the climbing book. Burton led the second and third pitches as one. Young said that he had done the regular route before. They arrived at the Ahwahnee Ledge between 1930 and 2000 and spent the night there.

On July 4, Young started the A-4 pitch at 0815. He finished the pitch about 1000. Burton started the next pitch about 1115 after sorting the gear. It was during the climb of this pitch, A-3, that Burton took a 15 foot fall. He was not injured and continued the climb. He finished the pitch about 1500. Young said it took a while because Burton was not as experienced. Young came up to Burton and re-racked the gear. He then began the third to the last pitch. He was about 20 feet up in the climb when he came upon a flake on the right. He said it looked like an obvious place to go. He mentioned that it was a thin flake but it was tucked behind another flake so he thought it would not be a problem. The flake was almost three feet off to the right of Burton. Young said that he did not warn Burton that he was testing the flake. He thought that if it fell it would miss Burton as there was a three foot space. Young put in a #1 Friend and clipped in his daisy chain to the Friend. He pulled on it and the flake came off. He yelled, “Rock,” immediately. The flake fell to the left and not to the right as expected. Young said that the flake fell to the left because of the fracture line. When he yelled rock, Burton looked up and the flake struck him on the forehead. Fortunately, Burton was wearing a helmet.

The force of the blow caused Burton to become unconscious. Young said that Burton was bleeding from the forehead. He downclimbed immediately. He thought Burton was dead. He had some difficulty in downclimbing as he had to climb through the system already rigged. When he was downclimbing and got along side of Burton, Young said that he was yelling, trying to get a response from him. After about five minutes he said that he detected a moaning sound. Young said that he gave him a brief check and determined that the head wound was the most serious. He checked his fingers and toes and asked him about pain in his neck. Burton was coming around and could speak. Young removed the helmet and bandaged up the head wound and replaced the helmet. He then secured Burton on the wall.

Young then downclimbed and brought up the portaledge. He set it up and transferred Burton from the hammock to the portaledge. He placed Burton in his jacket and sleeping bag. He checked the pupils in his eyes. At this time he felt that Burton was improving. Burton told Young that he was allergic to penicillin and morphine. Young kept talking to Burton and rechecking him. He yelled for help and reported his situation to visitors below. Rescuers soon arrived. (Source: Daniel Horner, Banger, Yosemite National Park)

(Editors Note: Ranger John Dill sent a sketch of the helmet. He noted that the rock had split the shell, the suspension, his scalp and his skull—but not the meninges. As Dill put it, “Send the boy to Vegas—with my money!”)