At the park’s request, California Highway Patrol helicopter H24 flew for about 45 minutes over the search area, but did not find the climbers. Additional search teams searched the area on foot without success.
At about 6:30 pm, the Big Trees Lodge manager called and said one of the missing employees had phoned her and said the two of them were back at their house. A ranger verified the employees were safe at their residence and all search operations were terminated.
Interviews with the two employees revealed the following: The climbers departed for Wawona Dome with no overnight gear, as they intended to climb an easy pitch and rappel back down. They got lost trying to find the best access to their climbing area, but eventually found it. They climbed the face without incident, and when they got to the top, one of them didn't feel comfortable rappelling back down. Their intention was to find a way across the Chilnualna Creek, over to the nearby Chinualna Falls Trail, then simply hike back down to Wawona. However, due to the very heavy flows of the creek from snowmelt, they could not find a safe way from the top of the dome to cross the creek and get over to the trail. They were in three feet of snow, and it was getting dark. They hunkered down under a boulder and spent a very cold night without any overnight gear. The next day, they slowly trudged through the deep snow and eventually found a way down. When asked if they heard or saw the CHP helicopter overhead, they said they did, but it apparently didn't see them.
- Research your trail or climbing route thoroughly in your trip planning process.
- Always ensure you have the right gear and equipment for your trip and plan for the "what ifs," like bad weather.
- Always check a local visitor center for current conditions on trails and streams.
- Always go with a friend, especially when climbing or hiking into a wilderness area.
- Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.