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Fall on Rock, Inadequate Protection, California, Yosemite Valley, Half Dome


California, Yosemite Valley, Half Dome

On September 17, 1992, a report of an injured climber, Rolf Schempp (25), seven pitches up the Regular Northwest Face route of Half Dome was received by NPS dispatch. A ranger was inserted at the scene by heli-rappelling from the park contracted helicopter. When the victim was stabilized in a litter, a Navy UH-helicopter from NAS Lemoore attempted to evacuate him. However, the winds were too turbulent to attempt the hoist operation and it was aborted. A short time later the park contract helicopter was able to successfully short haul the victim from Half Dome directly to the Ahwahnee Meadow. The ranger and the victim's climbing partner then rappelled off the route and hiked out.


While hiking down the trail from Half Dome, I interviewed Schempp’s partner, Jurgen, who told me that they had planned to climb the standard Northwest Face of Half Dome in a day. They were traveling lightly, with minimal food, water and extra clothing. He felt they both were climbing safely and carefully, although he admitted that on the easy sections it was hard to concentrate on properly placing protection. He felt that both he and Rolf would just move quickly with minimal protection on easier sections. The pitch that Rolf fell on, the seventh pitch, is rated at 5.5 in difficulty. At 0910 Rolf fell from the seventh pitch approximately 30 feet before being stopped. Rolf had not placed any protection. Jurgen felt that Rolf used a loose rock as a hold, and when he raised himself on it, the rock detached from the mountain, along with Rolf. Rolf sustained injuries to his head, right hip, and right foot. He never lost consciousness, and moved a short distance from where he landed to the ledge I found him on.

Before I left the stance in the afternoon with Jurgen, I also spoke with John Terpening, a solo climber who was using the same belay stance. He told me that he observed Rolf fall above him, and the belay rope was between him and the wall. In effect, Terpening acted as an intermediate protection point for Rolf. Terpening also told me that this was the second climber he had observed fall past him in the five days he had been on the wall. (Source: Michael LaLone, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)