American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Inexperience, Inadequate Clothing, Darkness, Weather, California, Yosemite Valley, Royal Arches

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999


California, Yosemite Valley, Royal Arches

On May 28, Kevin Calvert (18) and Kacee Fujinami (19) were benighted while descending Royal Arches. They were able to complete the descent early the next morning, though a rescue effort had been put in place.


This seemingly bland incident has some interesting lessons. Below is a summary of information provided to rangers in an interview.

Experience. Kacee Fujinami and Calvert were here in Yosemite with the Alpine Club of Santa Maria High School. Both were acting as advisors with the club. Both were described by the RP as the most experienced climbers in the club. Kacee Fujinami’s (19) climbing experience has been predominantly in sport climbing, describing herself as a YDS 5.9 sport climber. Fujinami has no traditional lead climbing experience. The longest route climbed prior to this was a five pitch route that she seconded.

Kevin Calvert (18) stated that he had five years of climbing experience and that he climbs at least one day a week. Calvert describes himself as leading “hard” 5.10 traditional routes. The longest route Calvert has climbed is the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock. Calvert stated that he has climbed at least one other route of similar difficulty and length in the Needles.

Clothing. Fujinami wore light cotton pants, a cotton t-shirt, a light cotton long underwear shirt, a light cotton sweatshirt, and a nylon shell jacket (untreated, non-waterproof, not a Goretex type fabric). Fujinami had no hat or gloves. Fujinami had no wind pants or rain pants. Calvert wore a cotton t- shirt, a cotton long underwear shirt and a medium weight synthetic pile top. Calvert did not have a rain jacket or rain pants. Calvert wore a leather sun shade type hat. Calvert did not have a wind breaker, rain parka, or rain pants.

Equipment. Fujinami and Calvert carried one pack between them that contained an EMS type emergency space blanket and a light plastic poncho, four or five one-liter bottles of water, and they had one head lamp and a flashlight. They climbed with two 11mm, 165 foot, dynamic climbing ropes. They carried a rack that included SLCD, tricams, wired nuts, quick draws and slings.

The Climb. Fujinami and Calvert began the climb at 0830 following a last minute decision to do this climb rather than what had been planned earlier— that being to do shorter routes with the other members of their club. Fujinami and Calvert planned to descend the bolted rappel route. Neither was familiar with the North Dome Gully descent other than knowing it existed.

Calvert did all of the leading. They were aware of the weather report and that rain was forecast for the afternoon, having been advised of that at the Mountain Shop in Curry Village just prior to leaving that morning. Calvert stated that he expected to climb the route in four or five hours.

As they reached the top of the tenth pitch around 1630, it began to rain. They decided to rappel. On the first rappel, Calvert threw the ropes down and began the rappel using an ATC as a brake. Calvert rappelled less than 50 feet when he discovered the ropes entangled but not stuck below him.

Calvert stated that he was on a blank slab without convenient ledges. He attempted to pull up a bight of rope and tie himself off with it so that he might safely use both hands to untangle the two ropes, but was unsuccessful in achieving this. He then reascended the rope 50 feet to the ledge where he began his rappel. He did this by levering up on the climbing rope and locking off on the ATC. He pulled the entangled rappel ropes back up to the ledge, sorted them out, and redeployed them. Calvert was apparently unfamiliar with the prusik technique.

Fujinami and Calvert made a total of four rappels before dark, stopping on a large ledge system on the normal route, about 200 feet above the ground. They spent the night huddled together wrapped in the poncho and space blanket at this location. The weather conditions were extreme, with high winds, heavy snow/sleet and 30 degree temperatures.

In conclusion, there are some key points to keep in mind. 1) Royal Arches is a 17 pitch route rated at the YDS 5.7 A1 level, and is well described in the first chapter, “Staying Alive,” of the guide book they had. The specific problems they encountered are discussed. 2) Their clothing choice needs no further comment. 3) They did not adhere to a turn-around time. 4) Not knowing how to prusik resulted in taking more time to untangle the ropes. 5) By tying their two ropes together, they could have made a single rappel to the ground from the ledge where they bivouacked. (Source: From Yosemite National Park Case Incident Reports)

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