Injured Climbers Rescued from El Capitan

September 16, 2013 Posted by: Yosemite Search and Rescue

YOSAR and Yosemite Helitack members arriving at the summit of El Capitan.
Above: YOSAR and Yosemite Helitack members arriving at the summit of El Capitan.

Rescuers being lowered down the Nose.

On Tuesday morning, September 10, 2013, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a 911-call from a climber on El Capitan. The caller stated that a party of three climbers was on the 21st pitch of the Nose (just below the Great Roof) when the leader fell over 50 feet and struck his belayer. With initial reports of a possible open arm fracture and head injury, rangers began preparing for a technical rescue on top of El Capitan.

Helicopter 551, Yosemite's fire and rescue helicopter, flew a team of 14 YOSAR members to the top of the Nose, where they rigged a rope rescue system and lowered two rangers approximately 1000 feet down to the injured climbers. Meanwhile, an afternoon thunderstorm approached from the east end of the Yosemite Valley. High winds complicated lowering operations and communication between teams was challenging, but the injured lead climber was successfully packaged in a litter and lowered, along with one ranger, to the base of El Capitan, where he received medical care.  

Lowering operations at the summit of El Capitan.
Above: Lowering operations on the summit of El Capitan.

Once the first rescuer and injured climber reached the ground, the team at the summit of El Capitan pulled the ends of the ropes back up to the second rescuer still on the wall. The team then lowered the second rescuer, the injured belayer, and the third climber to the ground. Rescuers and climbers fought erratic wind gusts as they were being lowered down the 3000-foot rock face, but made it to the base before the rainstorm arrived. The team at the summit waited for the storm to pass before pulling up the ropes and demobilizing. However, smoke from the nearby Rim Fire precluded helicopter operations after 7 pm and several YOSAR team members were forced to bivouac overnight on top of El Capitan.

Click to view the unedited photo of the climber's arm after treatmentRescuers later learned the following about the accident: the leader, age 43, weighted a piece of protection, which then pulled from the rock and caused him to fall. His last several pieces of protection also ripped out of the rock, but a bolt above the anchor (and an attentive belayer) arrested his fall of approximately 65 feet. He sustained rope burns, bruised ribs, and a deep muscle laceration to his arm from a carabiner. His belayer, age 37, suffered a circumferential rope burn to his wrist. The two were treated at the Yosemite Medical Clinic and released that evening. The climbers reported that between the three of them, they have nearly seventy years of climbing experience.

Rescue photos: Cheyne Lempe / NPS

9 Comments Comments icon

  1. March 14, 2014 at 09:49

    Good Job Yosar!

  2. November 26, 2013 at 02:49

    I wrote an article about the successful search for Ann Lory yesterday. I was a member of the Fresno SAR Team.

  3. September 29, 2013 at 12:54

    Ooops, ouch and Oh my gosh! The ONLY part of climbing El Capitan is on a full moon lit night, while laying on a blanket with binoculars to watch the brave climbers headlamps. Is a must see/do when you're unable to climb. Enjoy the full moon in Yosemite Valley. Is awesome!

  4. September 18, 2013 at 08:31


  5. September 17, 2013 at 02:14

    Go team!!!

  6. September 17, 2013 at 08:52

    Good job YOSAR. He was a lucky man this time.....

  7. September 16, 2013 at 08:03

    Thank goodness the bolt held and the belayer was on top of things or this story could have been one of tragedy. Kudos to the rescue team!

  8. September 16, 2013 at 04:04

    good work team!

  9. September 16, 2013 at 03:19

    Well done to all the rescuers involved. Get better soon climbers.

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Last updated: September 19, 2013

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