American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Placed No Protection, Exceeding Abilities, California, Dana Glacier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1993


California, Dana Glacier

On July 26, 1992, at 1515 Ranger Dave Page received a report of a climbing accident on the Dana Glacier. The reporting party, Robert Gordon, was at the Tioga Pass Entrance Station. Gordon indicated that two individuals climbing above him on the Dana Glacier had taken a 500 foot fall and that one of the individuals was seriously injured. Dana Glacier is outside the park boundary and Mono County Sheriff was called and notified of the incident. At that time I informed Sargent Cole Hampton that the park helicopter and personnel were available to respond if Mono County requested our assistance. Sargent Cole requested that we respond and asked that we keep him informed of what was happening.

Richard Vance was leading the climb up the ice gully on the Dana Glacier when his climbing partner, Joel Johnson, lost his footing and fell. Vance and Johnson were roped together and Vance had not put in any protection. Vance had no ice protection, only rock protection which he felt was useless in the rocks at the sides of the gully. Johnson gave no warning when he fell and pulled Vance down with him. Vance made an attempt at selfarrest but it was useless on the ice. Both climbers fell approximately 500 feet clearing the bergschrund in the process. Vance and Johnson came to rest on mixed snow and talus at approximately 11,700 feet. Vance was uninjured and indicated that Johnson had lost consciousness for about one minute and he remained disoriented for approximately ten minutes. Vance placed Johnson on a thermarest pad and put a sleeping bag over him to keep him warm. Both climbers were wearing helmets; however, Vance lost his during the fall. Robert Gordon, who was climbing below Vance and Johnson, hiked out to Tioga Pass and reported the accident to rangers.

Rangers from Tuolumne Meadows were flown in to the victim's location by the park helicopter. Johnson was hypothermic and Rangers Eric Gabriel and Dave Page began rewarming the patient and stabilizing him for transport. Johnson was to be short hauled to Dana Meadows by the park helicopter but severe down drafts prevented this from occurring. After some difficulty the helicopter was able to set down approximately 100 yards from the victim. The victim was then belayed down in the litter by rescue team members over treacherous terrain to the helicopter. The litter belay took approximately an hour to complete. Johnson was then loaded on the helicopter and flown to Dana Meadows to an awaiting ambulance from Tuolumne Meadows. ALS procedures were initiated and the patient was transferred to June Lake Paramedics for transport to Mammoth Hospital. All rescue team members were flown to Dana Meadows. SAR team members were sent in the following day on foot to retrieve equipment left at the accident site from the night before. Rescue work on the glacier took place with rockfall activity from above.

Johnson sustained an unstable compression fracture to T-8 and L-l, an ankle fracture, and possible facial fractures. Vance was advised to seek medical care as a precaution, due to the nature and distance of the fall. (Source: Dave Page, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)


These two had experience as rock climbers—not a lot, but not beginners. They had taken a snow and ice course. This was to be their first snow and ice climb on their own. They were prepared to bivouac, climbing with good sized packs. While it is not known as to what caused the fall, the combination of being new to snow and ice, no protection, and heavy packs resulted in sustaining serious injury. (Source: Dave Page, John Dill, Rangers, Yosemite National Park)

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