American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Loose Rock, Weather, Party Separated, California, Yosemite Valley, Sentinel Rock

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

FALL ON LOOSE ROCK, WEATHER, PARTY SEPARATED

California, Yosemite Valley, Sentinel Rock

On May 31, 1993, at 1630, John McMillan reported his climbing partner, Ian Johnston (27) overdue from descending Sentinel Rock. After climbing the Chouinard/Herbert route on Sentinel, they spent the night at the summit. They had split up on the descent when the gully became very cloudy. With virtually no visibility and in a rain storm, Johnston preferred to wait until the storm passed and visibility became better. McMillan descended alone to Yosemite Valley. At 1630, he became concerned and notified NPS.

As Both Helicopter 51 and the NAS Lemoore helicopter were available after completing a mission on another SAR, Helicopter 51 with two spotters flew the descent route looking for Johnston. He was discovered partway down the descent route, and indicated he had an injured ankle. Once his condition and position were determined, the Lemoore helicopter was used to evacuate him, as they had both rappel and hoist capabilities currently lacking with Helicopter 51. Lemoore was able to hover close enough to Johnston that he was able to board the aircraft without resort to rappel or hoist evolutions.

I interviewed Johnston later. He indicated he was unable to negotiate the steep, loose terrain with his bad ankle. Johnston slipped and injured his ankle about 100 yards prior to reaching Sentinel Creek, and attempted to continue on. He was only able to take three to four steps at a time. In addition, he was thoroughly wet and cold after spending most of the day in a rainstorm. Given his physical condition and the difficult, hazardous terrain required to evacuate him, it is felt that both Johnston and rescuers would have been put into unwarranted dangers by attempting a ground evacuation in the dark. (Source: Michael D. Lalone, SAR Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

(Editor’s Note: One cannot help but question whether an injury as minor as a sprained ankle warrants the risk and cost involved in the use of a helicopter under these conditions.)

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