Turning Blue in the Emerald Pool

July 29, 2016 Posted by: Yosemite Search and Rescue

A brief dip in the Emerald Pool became a near-death experience for two 18-year-old swimmers on July 17, 2016. A group of eight older teens were hiking the Mist Trail above Vernal Fall. Two of the teens, both from Southern California, were familiar with swimming and recreating in the Pacific surf. They reached Emerald Pool as late-afternoon shadows were falling across the canyon.

Two of the teens decided to leave the trail and swim across Emerald Pool. When they tried to return to the trail side of Emerald Pool, the two swimmers struggled with:

  • A strong current, which was not apparent before entering the water
  • Cold water temperatures, which quickly accelerated their fatigue

The strong current and cold water thoroughly exhausted both young men. One was surviving the return swim but the other literally was not. The surviving swimmer doubled back to rescue his friend but fatigue overcame both swimmers. Their six companions on shore, though watching in horror, were not able to help. At this point, the young men were now losing their battle against drowning.

During their struggle, an anonymous Good Samaritan entered the water and grabbed the more distressed swimmer just as he was bobbing under the water. The rescuer pulled him to the water’s edge, enabling the other swimmer to self-rescue.

The Good Samaritan, whose identity remains a mystery, left the scene.

The distressed swimmer swallowed water and, although on dry land, was vomiting and barely responsive, even as the first emergency medical responders arrived. His condition was serious enough that a Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) team had to carry him down to Happy Isles on a litter.

It appears both swimmers will make a healthy recovery.

Lessons Learned:

  • Emerald Pool is not a swimming pool. Other swimmers have drowned after discovering the challenge of cold and current when it was too late.
  • Warning signs are a good indication of a tragic history. Emerald Pool and the adjoining Silver Apron are well signed with warnings about and prohibitions against entering the water in this area.
  • In hindsight, the rescue went well and achieved an ideal outcome. However, entering the water to aid a distressed swimmer is not encouraged because these would-be rescuers often require rescue themselves, or die. This almost became a case in point when the first rescue attempt turned into a losing battle against exhaustion. The recommend rescue technique is to try to get a floatable object to the struggling swimmer(s) and immediately alert authorities.
  • Yosemite’s waters present unique dangers often quite different than the oceans’ hazards. Familiarity with the ocean does not translate well into success in Yosemite’s waters. Although swimming is a necessary skill around any water, sometimes even strong swimmers lose their lives in Yosemite’s waters, including at Emerald Pool.
  • Stay on the trail.

15 Comments Comments icon

  1. Bruce
    June 05, 2018 at 04:51
     

    Cold water does not accelerate fatigue. Cold water causes the body to pull blood out of the extremities thus causing muscle faliture / swim failure. Fitness does not overcome this, meaning it doesn't matter how strong a swimmer you are.

     
  2. Bruce
    June 05, 2018 at 04:51
     

    Cold water does not accelerate fatigue. Cold water causes the body to pull blood out of the extremities thus causing muscle faliture / swim failure. Fitness does not overcome this, meaning it doesn't matter how strong a swimmer you are.

     
  3. August 18, 2016 at 06:15
     

    @Bob, No one was cited. The National Park Service does not charge for rescue but does charge for emergency medical services. This is generally the standard across the country. Some agencies occasionally seek to recover costs if they believe extreme negligence or recklessness caused the search and rescue. No evidence of drugs or alcohol were noted.

     
  4. Bob
    August 18, 2016 at 05:57
     

    Where they cited? Did they have to pay for their rescue? WEre drugs or alcohol involved?

     
  5. August 08, 2016 at 07:56
     

    Over 40 years of visits to Yosemite & too many tragedies because people ignore the fact that it is a Wilderness...signs are for our protection.

     
  6. August 07, 2016 at 07:43
     

    I hear those who try swimming in the Emerald Pool in Yellowstone don't fare well either.

     
  7. Don
    August 07, 2016 at 06:54
     

    I've been there many times, it's all snow melt coming down the Merced River so it's always cold. In late season with perfect conditions you might be able to slide along the apron into Emerald Pool, but you then have to quickly make it to shore and get out of the water. Anyone who thinks they can actually swim in Emerald Pool is delusional.

     
  8. August 07, 2016 at 05:52
     

     
  9. Joy
    August 07, 2016 at 05:01
     

    Ah - From reading other articles, I see that it's not a pool in the dictionary sense of the word; it's part of the river. Pool - a small area of still water, typically one formed naturally. Maybe you could change the name to Emerald Trap?

     
  10. Joy
    August 07, 2016 at 05:00
     

    Ah - From reading other articles, I see that it's not a pool in the dictionary sense of the word; it's part of the river. Pool - a small area of still water, typically one formed naturally. Maybe you could change the name to Emerald Trap?

     
  11. Joy
    August 07, 2016 at 04:52
     

    If it's a pool, where does the current come from?

     
  12. August 07, 2016 at 04:25
     

    You know, deer pee in that water.

     
  13. August 07, 2016 at 04:25
     

    You know, deer pee in that water.

     
  14. August 07, 2016 at 10:52
     

     
  15. August 07, 2016 at 10:29
     

     
 
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Last updated: July 29, 2016

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