American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Dehydration, Inadequate Fluids, Misperception, California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

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


California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

On October 22,1993, at 1215 cries for help were reported from high on the Salathe route of El Capitan. Two climbers were discovered calling for help due to lack of water. A lowering team was flown to the top and one rescuer was lowered to their location. After minimal rehydration, they were able to jumar up the lines the rescuer was lowered on. Due to the late hour both victims and the rescuer arrived at the top, all parties remained on top overnight. Victims, rescuers, and equipment were flown out the next day.


When asked what factors may have been responsible for the party requesting help, both Chris Walburgh (25) and Andrew Seessel (28) felt that the following may have had some bearing:

The climbing on the route was significantly harder than they originally thought it would be, based on what other climbers had told them.

Seessel was very intimidated by the route, and did not feel capable of leading as many pitches as he thought he would be able to. This meant Walburgh led almost all of the pitches climbed.

They had been checking the weather, and almost did not attempt the climb because of suspected storms. They were somewhat surprised by the warmer weather, thinking it would be cooler. The highs in the Valley during their climb were only 62-67 degrees F; however, it's unusually warmer in the direct sun on the walls and they were working hard all day. (Breathing hard, even on cold days, pumps lots of water vapor out of your lungs—the cloud of breath you see when you exhale. 30 to 50 of those/minute don’t take long to cause dehydration.)

They brought no pitons, having been told that the route went clean. They both felt having pitons would have been an asset on several of the aid pitches.

When Seessel and Walburgh reached the Block, they were still on their time schedule. But they had only one day's water left for two days’ climbing. They lost a day, giving themselves a projected two-day water deficit and they were already dehydrated. Even if the climbing had been relatively easy, they might not have made it. By PA, the NPS initially offered to deliver water to them by helicopter (eliminating the need for further rescue), but they felt it would have taken too long to rehydrate themselves to a point where they were comfortably able to complete the climb. They probably could have rehydrated. (They jugged 700 feet that evening.) But they were also worried about doing the rest of the climb with insufficient protection. (Source: Michael Malone and Johh Dill, SAR Rangers, Yosemite National Park)

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