Open Ankle Fracture at Bridalveil Fall

August 18, 2013 Posted by: Yosemite Search and Rescue

Incident location in boulder field below Bridalveil FallOn Saturday, July 6, at 3:30 p.m., the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center (ECC) received a 911 call reporting a subject with a leg injury near the base of Bridalveil Fall. Over the next several minutes, the ECC received further details that the injury was possibly an open ankle fracture. 
The subject, a 48 year-old male, along with his nine-year-old son, had hiked to the viewing platform below Bridalveil Fall. The pair then left the established trail to scramble up the boulder field toward the base of the waterfall (left), bypassing signs that advise against leaving the trail. Although the boulders were dry, they were still extremely slick; over the years, the boulders have been polished smooth by water from Bridalveil Fall (even rescuers that day, wearing approach shoes with sticky rubber soles, had trouble with their footing). The subject and his son made it to the base of Bridalveil Fall, which is approximately one-eighth of a mile, with a 200-foot elevation gain, above the viewing platform. There they took pictures with another father-son pair they had met along the way. When they all turned to head back down, the subject was immediately concerned about his son slipping and falling on the rocks; the subject explains, "I was trying to get ahead of my son and map out the best course to take. That way I thought if my son lost his footing, I'd be able to stop his fall." At one point, the subject had to scoot across a large boulder to reach his son; all of a sudden "my foot caught, I started sliding and then tumbling down the rock, and then I fell over the edge...I thought I might die." The subject took a 15- to 20-foot fall, landing on his back on a boulder below (the subject already suffered from chronic lower back pain and had two implanted neurostimulators). The subject, referring to his pain level, recounts "on a scale of one to ten, I was at a 38." The other father-son pair, along with the subject's son, scrambled down to the subject; soon other bystanders arrived to offer assistance.

On scene with subject in boulder fieldWithin 20 minutes, emergency responders arrived on scene (right) and found the subject lying where he had landed, below the large boulder. The subject did, in fact, suffer an open (compound) fracture to his right ankle. Both stabilizing the traumatic ankle injury and managing the subject's off-the-charts pain proved challenging to the emergency responders; even with pain medications, the subject was almost constantly writhing and screaming in pain. The response team maintained spine immobilization by packaging the subject into a vacuum body split. Rescuers then loaded the subject into a wheeled litter and, with low-angle rescue gear in place, began descending through the boulder field. Progress was slow due to tricky footy for the rescue team and the subject's pain levels; after about 15 minutes, the team leader ordered the team to stop and advised the incident commander that a short-haul operation would be required. Yosemite Helitak, using the park helicopter (Helicopter 551), extracted the subject by short-haul from the Bridalveil Fall boulder field and flew him to El Capitan Meadow (below). At El Capitan Meadow, the subject was transferred to an awaiting air ambulance helicopter, who flew the subject out of the park, to a hospital in Modesto, CA.

Subject is lowered to El Capitan Meadow for transfer to air ambulance helicopter

Four weeks after the incident, the subject is still in a wheelchair and unable to bear any weight on his right foot, but his wife reports that he is "recovering slowly." He stayed in the hospital for nearly two weeks after his fall, and went through two surgeries on his ankle. A few days into the subject's hospital stay, doctors discovered that his right wrist was also fractured, so his right arm is in a cast. The subject acknowledges that his accident could have been even worse, and is grateful for the kindness of bystanders: one visitor literally took the shirt off his back and the hat off his head to offer the subject relief from the penetrating summer sun. The father-son pair whom the subject had befriended earlier stayed by the subject's side, offering prayers and comfort and looking after the subject's son until rangers and members of Yosemite Search and Rescue took the nine year-old into their care. In looking back on his accident, the subject offers the following advice to hikers: "The risk just isn't worth it. Always put yourself in a position where you can take care of your children. Don't take your kids up there."

Read more reports from the Preventive Search and Rescue blog. Learn more about Yosemite waterfalls.

Subject is transferred to air ambulance

43 Comments Comments icon

    November 04, 2018 at 02:41

    I think this is among the most vital information for me. And i'm glad reading your article. But should remark on some general things, The web site style is great, the articles is really great : D. Good job, cheers

  2. David
    August 31, 2018 at 06:33

    Glad to see the YOSAR team was able to evac him out without further risks on that terrain. Common sense should always prevail. Just thankful the gentleman will recover, it could have been much worse.

  3. David
    August 31, 2018 at 06:32

    Glad to see the YOSAR team was able to evac him out without further risks on that terrain. Common sense should always prevail. Just thankful the gentleman will recover, it could have been much worse.

  4. David
    August 31, 2018 at 06:32

    Glad to see the YOSAR team was able to evac him out without further risks on that terrain. Common sense should always prevail. Just thankful the gentleman will recover, it could have been much worse.

  5. August 14, 2015 at 03:07

    To you people that criticize this guy! stay on the marked trails please. I don't like seeing your kind out in the adventurous areas anyways. Yosemite isn't the only place accidents happen, there's many places with out signs that are just as dangerous. I'm glad my tax dollars are being used to help save adventurous people, it's far better then going to some overweight unadventurous fast food eatin TV watching slob. I've climbed that area for over 20 years my kids have been climbing up there since they were 3 years old. We've never been injured in the many times We've been up there. I also make sure we're always extremely cautious as well. My daughters and I have been scrambling around the sierras for many years and have seen many beautiful areas just off the beaten path. The only places I've ever been injured has been on trails or pavement. more people are injured or die from following just the basic rules or signs in Yosemite alone. Rock slides, drowning, lightening, exhaustion, car accidents etc etc. the few that do outside of the rules are the only ones ever noticed. People need to learn how to mind their own business. Which by the way I just hiked up the mist trail and I honestly feel it was safer before the new uneven, slippery, and uber steep steps there is now. That's just my personal experience. Let people enjoy life as they see fit.

  6. September 16, 2013 at 06:59

    This could happen to anyone. As a 52 year old and my wife that actually trained and prepared for Halfdome, and made it, I can tell you there are 100s of places where things can go wrong even folloeing following every rule. We all take calculated risks every day. It is what makes life fun! As I tell my kids when we are on the edge of a cliff. This is real danger, not Disney danger

  7. September 16, 2013 at 04:05

    The vitriol on both sides of the issue is really surprising to me. Should safety be a priority? Of course. Do individuals have differing perspectives on risk taking/tolerance? Of course. It's not a controlled environment and accidents can happen on a granite face 1000ft from the Valley floor or in a bathroom of an Ahwahnee suite. People in distress should be assisted regardless of how they got into trouble. Let's not throw stones at this man and just appreciate the blog and the work the rescuers do.

  8. August 25, 2013 at 03:26

    Oh fer cryin' out loud! The poor guy got a bit careless and an accident happened. You people who are wining about him straying from the "approved" trail could just as easily been walking in your "walk here" safe, government-approved spot and a rock from Glacier point fall on your head. This is a bit of boulder scrambling, not something really stupid like swimming above a waterfall. People climb over rocks all the time, and the conditions were such that he should have decided to turn back when they saw how slippery it was, but you people who get off your tour bus or out of the Ahwahnee room and take your perfumed, coiffed appropriate walk up the paved trail to see the pretty view are fools in their own way. Live your sheltered life and worry about the cost of rescuing someone who just made a bad call, have a great time and stay safe...better yet, stay in the room or on the tour tram.

  9. August 24, 2013 at 08:02

    It never fails to amaze me about the risks people are willing to take in posted areas.What an awefull example dad was setting for his son. I consider Yosemite my backyard,and have witnessed so many acts of stupidity in the name of adventure.If you can't play by park rules, then by all means, stay at home.I'm tired of people thumbing their nose at the rules and their "this happens to other people" mindset, which begs the ques."how is that working for you".

  10. August 20, 2013 at 01:42

    How about ya'll stop raggin on my bruther?

  11. August 20, 2013 at 08:53

    Side comment. I hope the tone and substance of many of the comments in this thread to not lead YOSAR to either quit making these posts or to quit allowing comments. Sure wish we could talk about the content of the posts and leave the personalizing editorializing to a minimum. I love these posts by YOSAR. I find them very informative and helpful. I hope we don't lose them.

  12. August 19, 2013 at 08:06

    Note to "Sierra": I actually bring my family along on my adventures. And if you think you can avoid death by simply staying behind a sign, you're not properly interpreting traffic statistics. What you call "Stupid" I call "not boring." Accidents happen regardless of what side of the sign you're standing on, and yes, the risk are grater for going off the trail, but so are the rewards. Enjoy your mundane life. I'm sure you'll have plenty to talk about when you've outlived everyone you know and are just lonely for someone to share an interesting memory with. I pity your children.

  13. August 19, 2013 at 08:01

    Good to see we have mind-readers hereabouts. Especially those who are so willing to judge others without knowing what they're talking about. Measured risks are one thing. Spending your life preparing for one thing is a life wasted. Say on your safe trails and whine about "costs". If you don't know what you're missing, then ignorance truly is bliss. There is no such thing as "safety". Enjoy your illusions...and your bitter casting of stones.

  14. August 19, 2013 at 11:45

    I'd agree with the comment on being adventurous and taking risks if didn't cost anyone else. I think the solution to this is simple. Post a sign that says "enter at your own risk -- we will not save you". If there are any accidents, they'll need to save themselves and not waste thousands of tax payer dollars for SAR.

  15. August 19, 2013 at 03:22

    Thank you for this post, and all others like it. I appreciate the opportunity to learn from these situations.

  16. August 19, 2013 at 02:17

    Stay on the marked trails! Do not go past the signs! Wear a helmet while walking! Don't climb mountains or explore! In fact, stay in your car or better yet, stay in your house and look at pictures of nature on the internet! That way you will never get hurt and never die. Some people like the illusion of safety. Others like to explore and climb mountains. Sometimes things go wrong. It happens. My son and I scrambled all over those rocks and banged a shin or two, but it was worth visiting the pool at the bottom of the falls. We've also climbed larger boulders and stood on the very tip of Glacier Point. Got a lot of great pictures and great memories. Life is risk. Those who take the safe, 'common sense' approach are content to never have explored, discovered, or accomplished.

  17. D
    August 19, 2013 at 01:07

    I still remember numerous people doing the same one New Year's Eve Day; Yosemite was covered in snow and ice. People are nuts, and teaching their kids the same. I hope they were fined and it's too bad taxpayers had to pay for them not caring about the signs Yosemite places for our safety.

  18. August 19, 2013 at 12:24

    Stay on the trails and behind safety barriers at all times they are there for a reason,"bush whacking" may seem fun at first but for the inexperienced hiker can lead to injuries and even fatalities. Enjoy Yosemite "smartly" and teach your children to obey warning signs...and yes we have an awesome Search and Rescue team as well as Fire Crew!!

  19. August 18, 2013 at 11:35

    After reading this, I was reminded of one of the most terrifying moments in my life. About 39 years ago while visiting Yosemite, I climbed atop a huge boulder to get a better view of the roaring Merced river with my then 3 year old son. Mommy was holding his hand, of course, but I started to slide down the dry boulder due to an abundance of pine needles. I truly thought I was going to die along with my son. Before we reached the end of the boulder and our lives, my slide was halted by a rut coming out of the boulder which caught my shoe. There is no explanation other than the good Lord intervened. I'm not a religious person, but I know a miracle when I see one. :-) BEWARE OF PINE NEEDLES ON SLOPING BOULDERS!!

  20. August 18, 2013 at 10:25

    Thank goodness there were others in the area that called for help. The tragedy could have been so much worse had he not met the kind man who called for help and took care of his son. I think it to be best in all situations to pay attention to the signs. I haven't seen a sign yet put up for no reason. Glad to hear he is recovering and everyone is safe. Thank you to the awesome search and rescue teams.

  21. August 18, 2013 at 08:36

    Thanx to YOSAR. You are still the BEST!! I wore an external TENS unit because I was enduring chronic pain from a head-on collision. How this man could even consider going boulder scrambling with two implanted units is beyond me. This was totally preventable, and I'm glad his son wasn't the one to get hurt (or worse).

  22. August 18, 2013 at 07:59

    I believe the rescue is free. You pay state and federal taxes for these services. However, the air ambulance is a private ride. They cannot bill a taxpayer, but they can fine you.

  23. Kim
    August 18, 2013 at 07:17

    I went to a Search and Rescue program given by the rangers...the only cost to a victim is the Medvac out of Yosemite. All other search and rescue costs are borne by the taxpayer. The medvac, according to the ranger that night, run as high as $25,000, possibly more.

  24. August 18, 2013 at 05:43

    The signs are posted for a reason, the adults should have lead by example and stayed on the path. It's no good when anyone gets hurt, but you also put the people who rescue you at risk by not following the warning signs etc.. Yosemite is my favorite place on earth, the years put into making the trails and maintain them safely for all to enjoy, can easily be closed for future generations to use, if people fail to abide the rules.

  25. August 18, 2013 at 05:27

    I would have crawled out crying if I had to,avoiding search and rescue fees at all costs!!!

  26. August 18, 2013 at 04:37

    Thanks search and rescue team for being there

  27. August 18, 2013 at 03:31

    I can only imagine how much that rescue plus hospitalisation cost. Wonder if it was less than $250K

  28. August 18, 2013 at 03:20

    As hard as it is to grasp just how slick those rocks are... trust the signs, not personal judgment. Going up the slick rocks are one thing, coming back down is another story altogether.

  29. August 18, 2013 at 03:14

    Kim, error in judgment is like saying going 80 mph through a school zone is an error in judgment. This can cost a person their life. It could have been his son or one of the rescuers. I spent 21 years in fire service and when not working fire I worked paramedic rescue. I have seem many people injured trying to rescue someone who made an "error in judgment". One of my crew died to save one such person. I suggest you become rescue personnel and run a few of these situations before you condemn people like me as heartless. There are enough legitimate accidents without people deliberately ignoring warnings to get themselves in trouble.

  30. Amy
    August 18, 2013 at 02:44

    Sierra, no bear in the story, I believe Johann was making an analogy about behavior and errors in judgement in situations.

  31. August 18, 2013 at 02:37

    So thankful for the trained rescuers. It was a lesson the "subject" learned the hard way - as well as his son learned the same lesson. I pray he recovers fully.

  32. Kim
    August 18, 2013 at 02:27

    And to every commenter here, who apparently has never made a mistake or an error in judgement, may you never have a crowd of hecklers standing by ready to wish you had been left to die. How heartless. You know what they say about let he who is without sin cast the first stone ... I didn't know there were so many sin-free people still left on this Earth. I hope this father recovers quickly, and is able to spend more days ahead in the great outdoors with his son (safely), showing him how there is much more to life than facebook, youtube, and computer games.

  33. August 18, 2013 at 02:24

    I'm always impressed by the objective tone of these blog posts, letting the facts be the warning. Thanks again for all you do, YOSAR.

  34. August 18, 2013 at 02:23

    This is like the parents that go onto the vernal falls trail when it's closed. They not only are putting their children and themselves in danger, they're teaching them to ignore rules.

  35. August 18, 2013 at 02:22

    Thanks search and rescue team for being there. Only problem is they often interfere with the law of natural selection.

  36. FG
    August 18, 2013 at 02:22

    Hope YOSAR bills him for having to respond to his stupid mistake.

  37. August 18, 2013 at 01:53

    I feel sorry for children whose parents put them in harm's way by ignoring safety signs and published accounts of fatal falls in Yosemite. Thank you, Search and Rescue, for all that you do!

  38. August 18, 2013 at 01:51

    What really bothers me is people have to go out and risk their lives to rescue people how don't have any sense and are teaching their children to be just like them. Used to be people obeyed the signs, not they feel free to do whatever they want.

  39. August 18, 2013 at 01:51

    Johann... re-read the story above a couple of times, and can't find the bear in it. Could you clarify??

  40. August 18, 2013 at 01:30

    I have to say, my son and I were in that same boulder field just 4 days later. My son was dying to go all the way up. We made it only a couple hundred feet before I forced him to turn around and head back down. It's an intimating collection of boulders and they are slick and many are not stable. Thank God this guy made it out with his life.

  41. August 18, 2013 at 01:14

    There's a reason the signs say to "stay on the designated trail".

  42. August 18, 2013 at 01:12

    Letting parents protect their children is indeed important. What does a father do when a bear approaches his children and DOESN' T back down after yelling and puffing up and consolidating the group?

  43. August 18, 2013 at 01:01

    Just use common sense...follow the marked trails,warning signs and enjoy the view. Common sense, that is all.

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Last updated: August 18, 2013

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