American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Protection Pulled Out, Fall on Rock, Inadequate Belay, Off Route, California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

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

PROTECTION PULLED OUT, FALL ON ROCK, INADEQUATE BELAY,

OFF ROUTE

California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

On August 6, 1992, Jamie Serrano (25) and Angel Vedo Fernandez (39)—both from Spain, were climbing the Nose route of El Capitan, and were at a location 1200 to 1500 feet above the valley floor, a few pitches below Dolt Tower. Vedo was leading and Serrano was belaying him from a small ledge when Vedo fell and landed on Serrano. Serrano sustained incapacitating injuries.

The two remained on the belay ledge and began yelling for help. An unidentified visitor reported the cries for help to a tour bus operator who radioed the situation to his dispatcher, who in turn telephoned Yosemite Ranger Dispatch with the initial situation information.

Ranger John Roth responded to size-up, confirming that cries for help were coming from the Nose route. An Incident Command System was initiated, with the Yosemite NPS helicopter deployed for a recon flyby. This flyby, utilizing Park Ranger Gus Martinez’ Spanish language speaking abilities, revealed that only Serrano was injured, and that a technical evacuation would be required due to back injuries. A rescue plan was formulated that deployed a ground response ascent team comprised of NPS SAR Tech Mike Ray, and Yose SAR site members Tom Borges, Francis Ross, Mike Callahan, and Jim Red. This response team began climbing at 1600, with the assignment to attempt to reach the victims, medically assess, stabilize, and provide helivac support on site.

In the interim, the Lemoore NAS Angel 2 helicopter was requested, which arrived at the El Capitan meadow at 1750. Air operations were staged at the El Capitan Meadow. NPS SAR Tech John Dill then was heli-rappelled, via the Angel 2, to the victim. Next a Lemoore NAS Corpsman heli-rappelled to the ledge, secured the uninjured climber Vedo, and short hauled him and the climbers’ equipment off to the El Capitan Meadow. The Angel 2 ship then picked up rescue gear to include medical supplies and a Stokes litter, flew them back to the ledge where they were lowered to John Dill, who was medically assessing the victim.

NPS Ranger John Roth then was flown to the ledge, where he heli-rappelled to Dill and the victim at which time Dill and Roth then immobilized Serrano, packaged him in the Stokes litter and prepared him for the heli-evacuation.

Shortly before darkness, at 2028, Angel 2 hoisted Serrano's litter up to the helicopter and flew him to El Capitan meadow where he was met by the Valley ambulance. Ranger John Roth accompanied him during this hoisting operation. Serrano was immediately driven to the Yosemite Medical Clinic where preliminary medical evaluation indicated that he had sustained a L-l compression fracture and possibly lacerated liver. He was then transported by ground ambulance to the John C. Fremont Hospital in Mariposa. (Source: James Tucker, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

Analysis

Serrano and Vedo are very experienced rock climbers and mountaineers, having climbed world-wide for several years, both free and aid, at a high standard.

They made the pendulum from Sickle Ledge (7th pitch) but got off route at that point by following a crack up and right for a pitch to a small ledge about 50 feet right of the Stove Leg Cracks. (A two-bolt anchor at this ledge is part of the Nose rappel route.) Vedo led the next pitch up the crack while Serrano belayed. He was standing on the ledge, belaying with the rope rigged through the large hole of a figure-eight descender in rappel fashion.

After climbing 30 to 40 feet, Vedo leaned back on a Friend he had just placed, to take a photo. Without warning the Friend pulled and Vedo fell. The belay friction may have been inadequate and/or the fall may have caught Serrano off guard, for he allowed several feet of rope to run. (Vedo thought Serrano had been holding the rope with only one hand.) Other protection held and Serrano arrested the fall, but Vedo landed hard on Serranos chest. (Source: John Dill, SAR Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

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