American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Darkness—Late Start, Off Route, Inadequate Clothing, Creating a Hazardous Condition, California, Yosemite Valley, Fairview Dome

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996

STRANDED, DARKNESS—LATE START, OFF ROUTE, INADEQUATE CLOTHING, CREATING A HAZARDOUS CONDITION

California, Yosemite Valley, Fairview Dome

On August 9, about 1100, Bill Ott (47) and Hugo Orellana (24) began climbing the Regular Route (III-IV 5.9) on Fairview Dome. They were the last party to start up the climb that day At least five parties were already on the route so Ott and Orellana had waited about an hour for their turn.

They were slowed by the groups above, and they also had trouble placing protection. On the sixth pitch, off Crescent Ledge, they lost the route. They rappelled back to Crescent Ledge and searched for bolt anchors that they remembered being shown in the guide book as a rappel route, but they were unable to locate them. During this time it became dark; they reclimbed the off-route pitch above the ledge but had to stop there because they were lost and could no longer see to climb.

Another climbing party reported to the NPS that Ott and Orellana might need help, and at 2130 a ranger contacted them by loudspeaker. At first they denied needing assistance, by signalling with a camera flash. After a brief discussion they signalled that they did need help. They stated that a cold wind was blowing.

A ten-person rescue team started hiking at 2230 and reached the top of the route at 0017. Two rescuers went over the edge at 0130 and reached the climbers, 500 feet below, at 0200. Everyone was safely on top by 0530. Ott and Orellana were cold and exhausted. They were given food and warm drinks and assisted to the Tioga Rd.

Analysis

Orellana was dressed in climbing tights and a T-shirt. Ott was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. Neither climber had additional clothing for low night-time temperatures or a change in the weather, nor had they brought a watch or headlamps. They had studied the route topo but had left it in the car, and had brought water but no food. They had two ropes and a large rack of hardware—several full sets of nuts and cams.

The Regular Route, on the north face of Fairview, is approximately 800 feet high, involving eight pitches of 5th class and three pitches of 4th class climbing. This makes it one of the longest routes in the Tuolumne Meadows area, a serious undertaking that may require most of a day. Since the altitude of Fairview Dome lies between 8800 and 9700 feet, temperatures frequently drop below freezing at night. (The low on August 10 was 34° F and the wind chill was much lower.)

Orellana had been climbing five years and leading for three. He had climbed at other areas, including one route on El Capitan. Ott was a novice, having very limited experience since taking a four-day course the year before.

On the day prior to attempting Fairview, they had completed two one-pitch climbs and a four-pitch climb, in the Tuolumne Meadows area, which gave them the confidence to tackle Fairview. Those routes, however, are much easier and far less committing than the Regular Route.

Ott and Orellana recklessly created a hazardous condition for themselves by starting the climb at a late hour and chosing to climb into the evening when they did not have headlamps. Their clothing was inadequate for the length of the climb and the possibility of spending the night on the route, and they had all the gear they needed to rappel the route before dark. Ott and Orellana were cited for Disorderly Conduct (creating a hazardous condition), 36CFR 2.34 (A) (4). They were each ordered by the court to pay half the cost of the rescue—$990 apiece. (Source: Dave Page, NPS Ranger.)

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