Yosemite’s Rivers Present Hazards, Even in September

September 11, 2015 Posted by: Yosemite Search and Rescue

Three hikers were injured along the Merced River in the first six days of September. While the river is flowing at near record lows, it is not benign.
Despite extremely low water levels, the Merced River can still be deceptively dangerous.
On Tuesday, September 1, while most of the park's available resources were engaged in a wilderness search for a missing person, Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a 911 call reporting that a young man was trapped in the water and screaming for help near the Silver Apron footbridge between the bottom of Nevada Fall and the top of Vernal Fall. The call was transferred to the incident commander, who attempted to get additional details. Unfortunately, cell reception was poor and it took some relay work to get the information. Meanwhile, a hasty team of two rescuers raced up the trail to assess the scene, relay information, and help as able until a properly outfitted swiftwater team could follow with swiftwater rescue gear. By the time rangers reached the reporting party, the badly injured subject had managed to free himself. The subject avoided the rescuers, who were unable to locate the subject. The swiftwater team returned to the Valley to bolster the teams already depleted for the search operations.

Four days later, on Saturday, September 5, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a call from the Merced River near Arch Rock Entrance Station. The report indicated that a male subject in his 30s dove into a shallow pool of water and could not feel anything below his waist. Ambulances responded from Yosemite Valley and El Portal while rangers responded to the incident with swiftwater gear. As more information came in, rangers learned the subject was already out of the river but was showing signs of shock. The man was flown to a nearby trauma center where, despite the skill of many medical professionals, his injuries left him paralyzed.

The following evening, on September 6, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received another 911 call reporting that a young male subject had slipped while climbing around in boulders at the base of Nevada Fall and that his arm had become trapped between the boulders. A hasty team headed up the trail and found that, while the man had managed to free himself, he had dislocated his shoulder. The subject had no other injuries but was in intense pain. Rescuers provided pain control medication, splinted the shoulder, and then accompanied him down the trail to the Yosemite Medical Clinic, where his shoulder was reduced. 

Swiftwater accidents are particularly dangerous and Yosemite has a long and storied history of drownings and horrible accidents in fast-moving spring water. At this time of year, however, the water seems comparatively tame. Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall have all but dried up for the season and the Merced River appears to have been reduced to near stagnation. However, the river still contains a litany of hazards including slippery wet granite, smooth and polished granite (which is also very slippery), boulders creating entrapments, currents that may or may not be observable, deceptively shallow water, and steep drops with short stops. As you enjoy the waterways in this drier season, please remember that rock hopping and scrambling among the boulders near the slow moving river can be as dangerous now as when the water is higher. Stay on designated trails or enjoy the river from one of the many beaches, bridges, or viewpoints along your route so that you can return from your vacation having experienced the park's fall beauty safely!

In each of these incidents, individuals made what seemed like reasonable choices to engage in activities along a seemingly benign section of a river but the injuries that resulted were painful ways to end a vacation, and sadly, one which was life altering.

4 Comments Comments icon

  1. September 22, 2015 at 12:49

    I wish you to say thanks very much for your kind advice to trek the Yosemite Park, I  t rekked Nepal and Mt.Kota Kinabaru in Malysia in my youth period.domestically Ikoma-Shigi mountain area near Osaka.I am 66 year old retirees and now preparing to visit USA next year or so,the last visit was in 1983,I was young,32 years old ,then on business、stayed for about one months visiting Seattle,San Fransisco,LA and Las Vegas,Denver,Co.Kansas City,Wasington DC and Chicago, NY city and Honolulu,Hawaii on the way back to Tokyo.I was a team coordinator.It was the memorable trip to me,since then,I never have had a chance to visit USA again.Your advice Yosemite is shallow water is the trap hole for the visitors to take caution and how to view the natural beauty of the water.In Japan where the mountain is many and the some of them are active volcanoes,the river with high torrent on the uptream is many.your advice on the shallow water might be applicable. I am now 66 years old .for my next visit to USA ,my wife has a close friend in LA  and LA will be our base camp to travel other cities and places in your country.the last time was the itinerary and schedule was hectic ,therefore I would like to arrange the relaxing schedule for my wife and me..The places i wish to visittor re-vIsit are many like to visit St.Louise,MI,Atlanta,GO,Harford,CO,for example. Yosemite Park is the place  I wish to include,and the Las Vegas is the place we both wish to vist!  I would like to have your news regurally I

  2. September 21, 2015 at 11:53

    it's as simple as '"Common Sense!" It's not that I don't have a heart, but in most cases that I read about is that people themselves put them in difficult situation. Most can be avoided using "Common Sense!" My first trip was 4 years ago and next month will be my 25 trip. We make ourselves aware of our surrounding and don't put ourselves in situations we can't get ourselves out of. Yosemite is my "Other Home!"

  3. September 21, 2015 at 09:40

    I really enjoyed my visit last week and especially the evening "Yosemite Seach and Rescue" presentation. I have great respect for the SAR teams.

  4. September 21, 2015 at 08:51

    Thank you for your advice and making our stay in Yosemite an enjoyable experience. After many years of being away, our entire family met at the Park for a memorable family reunion. We are planing to return next Summer.

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Last updated: September 11, 2015

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