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Nine Yosemite rangers received Valor Awards from Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne at the 65th Annual Honor Awards Convocation in Washington DC on May 13, 2008.
"The stories behind each of our award winners are as incredible as they are marvelous," Kempthorne said. In addition to courageous, dramatic rescues, Kempthorne also recognized the "everyday heroes" who help endangered species, develop innovative programs, or maintain accurate records.
Yosemite National Park Rangers John Dill, Daniel Gleason, David Horne, Gregory Lawler, Edward Visnovske, and Shawn Walters were honored for their work on a 2002 rescue. The team successfully rescued a climber who had been caught in a rock fall that swept over him, injuring his neck and shoulder and fracturing his elbow. During the rescue the entire area remained very much at risk of continued rock fall.
Rangers Keith Lober and Jack Hoeflich were honored for their work on a 2007 rescue. A climber suffered an open femur fracture and significant blood loss after an approximately 100-150 foot fall on the Nose Route of El Capitan. Rangers Lober and Hoeflich were lowered to Eagle Ledge, approximately four feet long by eighteen inches wide and nearly 2,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor, to the injured climber. Increasing and shifting winds, with gusts to 20-25 mph, added to the stress on the rangers and danger of the mission.
Ranger Eric Gabriel was honored for his unusual courage involving a high degree of personal risk in the face of danger for the National Park Service. On September 16, 2007, Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a call reporting an injured climber on the 25th pitch of the Nose Route on El Capitan. The climber had fallen fifty feet while lead climbing, fractured his leg, and was bleeding profusely. Ranger Gabriel was lowered as the sole attendant to the victim’s location to provide medical care and make an evacuation decision. His ability was tested as he balanced the patient’s injuries with the risks of a 3,200 foot night lowering operation. Ranger Gabriel was lowered over the summit of El Capitan as darkness fell. Once past the overhanging summit ledges he spun slowly through 700 feet of darkness to the Camp Five Ledge and victim.
National Park Service Director Mary Bomar and Yosemite Superintendent Mike Tollefson also attended the Washington DC ceremony.
"The technical skill, courage, and attitude of the Yosemite team is a credit to the park and to the National Park Service as a whole. These individuals exemplify the nation’s vision of the National Park Service Ranger. We’re incredibly proud of their achievements," said Tollefson after Tuesday’s event.