Yosemite Trekker Post #3 --- 6/15/09
Helicopter retrieval operation 6/13/09
Rescue on Half Dome
Rain and hail hampered the descent of 41 climbers down the side of Half Dome on Friday, June 12th, causing one man to fall to his death before horrified onlookers. Unlike El Capitan and other sheer granite peaks, Half Dome has a three-foot ladder bolted in place on either side, allowing the average hiker to mount the summit without any rock climbing expertise. In fact, I met two women in their fifties last week who told me they had just made the roundtrip journey in 13 hours. Their starting (and ending) point was the wilderness trailhead parking lot near the Pines campgrounds in Yosemite Valley.
The initial reports were sketchy and conflicting, some suggesting a cable had failed. A story in the Los Angeles Times, however, said park rangers blamed the weather and the usual weekend onslaught of hikers who got stuck in the afternoon storm. Manoj Kumar of San Ramon, California appeared to have lost his footing due to the damp conditions, causing him to fall.
On Sunday a search and rescue operation continued, with several climbers plucked off of Half Dome and others assisted by a Yosemite Search and Rescue team (a.k.a. YOSAR) via the ranger station in Little Yosemite Valley. In the regular-sized Yosemite Valley, we watched a helicopter moving back and forth between Half Dome and a field designated for landings.
A rescuer hitched by rope to the helicopter made several trips ferrying the climbers to safety. Located between Yosemite Village and the Ahwahnee Hotel, this open meadow gets a lot of action from the YOSAR folks, someone living in employee housing near the spot informed me.
I was surprised to find that the park ranger carrying off this difficult operation on the rock and in the air was a woman. The L.A. Times story didn't mention that, but did note that "two women" had previously fallen to their deaths from Half Dome. In the photo on the right is one of the climbers hauled off Half Dome. He's the guy in the shorts on the left.
The road here runs from the Ahwahnee and Yosemite Village. The medical clinic is just across the street and a few hundred feet west of this spot.
It only takes a few minutes to transport a climber off a rock and to safety in the valley. As straightforward as that sounds, the maneuver still requires dozens of emergency personnel, including fire fighters, who always get involved in helicopter rescues in case something goes wrong.
On the landing field, there's also the hazard of the spinning rotor blades. The tail rotor is especially dangerous and responsible for many deaths over the years. It spins so fast you may not even see it from a foot away. Rescuers on the ground are instructed to never go anywhere near a helicopter unless guided by the crew.
For more on hiking up to Yosemite's signature rock face, check out the Hike Half Dome blog.
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