American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, California, Yosemite Valley, Half Dome

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

FALL ON ROCK

California, Yosemite Valley, Half Dome

On August 4 about 0800, two climbers reported to Ranger Steve Yu that one member of their party of five Koreans had broken his right leg in a fall the previous day on the Regular Northwest Face (VI 5.9 A2) of Half Dome. They had managed to move the injured climber, Young-Jin Kim (24), to the base of pitch 9. Then the two reporting climbers had rappelled off to get help, leaving Kim in the care of the other members of the team. Apparently the fracture was open and had bled heavily for a time. (None of the climbers spoke English, but Steve solved the problem by calling his father, who is fluent in Korean, at his home in Wisconsin.)

Steve became the incident commander. He paged out the SAR team for a rope rescue from the summit and requested H551, the park A-Star helicopter. He also requested Rescue Six, the UH-1N Huey helicopter from Naval Air Station Lemoore, in case a hoist from the cliff face were required. (The face is a bit less than vertical on this part of the route.)

We flew one team member to the summit—to keep hikers from dropping cameras and day-packs onto the helicopters below—then Ranger Keith Lober and I flew a recon of the cliff face with H551. Pilot Dana Morris and crew chief Karen Kufta found they could hover directly over a two-foot wide sloping ramp that was about 25 feet below the climbers. We had about 15 feet of tip-to-cliff rotor clearance as a safety margin, so we decided to do the operation entirely by air, leaving the ground team in reserve. Clouds were building over Half Dome, so the faster we got this done, the less likely we would be out there in a lightning storm.

Keith rappelled first with a rack of hardware, a hand drill, ropes and medical gear. The rock was rotten where he landed but he was able to get in two quick pitons and a cam. Then I rappelled with the litter.

The Koreans lowered their one remaining rope to us (their friends having rappelled with the other two). We did not know what sort of anchor they had, so we declined their offer, and Keith led the short section up to them with our own gear. When he got there he found all three climbers attached to the only available protection, a single ?-inch bolt. Keith backed it up with a couple of ¼-inch buttonheads and fixed his line for me, while I assembled the litter where we had landed.

Kim was basically OK except for his ankle. His shoe was still on his foot, and blood soaked, but the bleeding had stopped hours ago. Our stance was cramped and the shoe stabilized Kim’s injury fairly well, so, after checking his spine, we packaged him in the litter, deferring a complete assessment to the medics waiting in the Valley.

Winds remained calm, and H551 had no problem short-hauling Kim from our position. He was at the clinic by about 1230. An open tib/fib fracture at the ankle was confirmed, and he was flown by the Air-Med helicopter to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto for orthopedic surgery.

Meanwhile, Rescue Six made two flights to hoist out the four of us remaining on the wall. With its larger rotor diameter, the Huey had to stand about 20 feet further out than our A-Star. They lowered a crew member, who dangled in space in front of us. We threw him a line and hauled him over to the ledge so that he could supervise the hookups.

Analysis

From looking at the scene and gesturing with the Koreans, I think that Kim was leading a 5.9 crack on pitch 10. He was hit by a sudden hail storm that coated the rock with ice, which is common on Half Dome, even in August. I do not know if he considered retreating to the belay or clipping to a piece until conditions improved, but either would have been a wise choice. Instead he kept climbing, took a fall of about ten feet, and his foot struck something on the way down. (Source Mike Nash, NPS Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

This ANAM article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.