AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Falling Object, California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

FALLING OBJECT

California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

On June 24, 1994, our party began an ascent of the Triple Direct route on El Capitan. That evening, as we bivouacked on Mammoth Terraces, we observed two portaledges set up on the Shield, about 1200 feet above us.

At 2030 we all heard the sound of a falling object. To me it sounded like an incoming mortar round in a war movie. I was lying on my right side inside a sleeping bag at the time. The object, which proved to be a two-liter Pepsi bottle filled with water and covered with duct tape, hit me on the left side near the bottom of my rib cage. The top of the bottle exploded on impact and water sprayed all over the ledge. Although I was in some pain, I felt I was in no immediate danger.

In the morning I still had some bruising and a little pain, but I decided I could continue the climb. Before we left the Terraces, a carabiner, apparently dropped by the same party above, missed us by only 20 feet. We yelled considerably less than nice comments up the wall. Conversation was difficult because of the distance, but they did yell down an apology.

The pain remained mild for the rest of the climb and, with no heroic effort on my part, we reached the summit on June 23. We hiked down to the Valley, enjoyed a celebratory dinner, and I drove home to southern California that night.

Early the following morning I was awakened by severe pain in my abdomen and left shoulder and arm. I was light-headed, weak, and lost consciousness if I tried to walk. When the ambulance got me to the hospital, my systolic blood pressure was down to 80 and the CT scan showed a ruptured spleen. I was wheeled straight to the operating room, where my spleen was removed. By that time I had lost three liters of blood into my abdomen. The surgeon felt that a delay of another 20 minutes would have been fatal.

Had I begun bleeding seriously while on the wall, I would probably be dead today, even with a fast rescue. We can only guess that the wound to my spleen had a chance to clot as I lay quietly in my bag that first night, and that the clot somehow survived the rigors of the next few days. (Source: Richard Oliver)

Analysis

Several climbers have lost their lives, and one is permanently disabled, from rocks knocked off by climbers above. This may be the first really serious injury caused by falling equipment, but the lesson is the same. Its incredible that Oliver is around to tell the tale. (Source: John Dill, NPS Ranger)