American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mild Hypothermia, Dehydration, Inadequate Equipment and Water, California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1994


California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

On May 31, 1993, at 1620, SAR site member Eric Rasmussen, who was near the base of El Capitan, heard cries for help from unidentified climbers on the Nose. Heavy rain had been falling most of the day in Yosemite, with the snow level around 8,600 feet. Rasmussen reported his finding to Rick Foulks at the SAR cache, who called NPS dispatch. Park Rangers Mike Hansen and Mary Littel had been involved with an earlier overdue report from the same route and were also taking an initial report of an overdue climber descending from Sentinel Rock. Rangers Hansen and Littel drove with SAR technician Mark Ingram to El Capitan Meadow with size-up gear. I finished taking the Sentinel overdue report and went to the SAR cache, where I was assigned to be IC for both SARs.

The team at El Capitan Meadow was able to determine that two male climbers were uninjured, but wet, cold and unable to stay the night at their Camp 5 bivy ledge, approximately 800 feet below the top of the cliff. They requested ranger assistance.

NPS planned for a major SAR. Incident command positions were assigned. At 1703, Rescue 2 helicopter was placed on alert at Naval Air Station Lemoore and dispatched at 1720. Park contract helicopter 51 was called in to El Capitan Meadow to ferry rescuers and gear and SAR site was paged out. Three teams were flown to the top of El Capitan to place fixed lines.

Helicopter 51 was then free to fly the Sentinel Rock descent gully. At 1927 the earlier reported overdue climber was spotted having difficulty with an injured leg. He was rescued using Lemoore's Rescue 2 helicopter.

From the top of El Capitan SAR site member Tom Rorges was lowered to the climber’s location with dry clothes. The two climbers were in good enough condition to be able to jumar the fixed lines to the top and arrived about 2300. They were given dry clothes, sleeping bags and a tent for the night. At 0711 on June 1, Helicopter 51 flew the climbers to El Capitan Meadow. They were then driven to the SAR cache.


These two experienced climbers (ages 28 and 33) were short on adequate gear. The introduction to Meyers’ and Reid’s Yosemite Climbs is entitled “Staying Alive,” and says, among other things:

Never rely on cotton or down (even if covered with one of the waterproof/breathable fabrics. A warning: several climbers have blamed the waterproof/breathable fabrics for their rescues or close calls. They claim that no version of it can take the punishment of a storm on the walls. Whether true or not, you must be the judge; test this type of gear ahead of time under miserable conditions, but where you exit is an easy one.

For sleeping ledges, take a big tent fly or a piece of heavy duty, reinforced plastic and the means to pitch it. (Source: Greg Maguder and John Dill, SAR Rangers, Yosemite National Park)

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