Saturday, October 15, 2011

Yosemite Report (Part 2 - Rescue)

I purposely left out a big part of the story in part 1. It seemed big enough to get it's own post.

Sometime in the mid-afternoon on that second day we saw a helicopter approaching. It climbed above us and hovered around making several passes near the Great Roof high up on the Nose. We couldn't see any nearby climbers so we figured that it was perhaps doing training maneuvers? At the same time that didn't really add up; the day was windy, and there were plenty of climbers on the wall so why risk knocking loose rocks on us for the sake of training? A few minutes passed and the helicopter eventually moved off, landing in the meadow below. I continued doing whatever it was that I was doing (probably hauling).

About 15 minutes later a voice came booming up from below. Someone was on a bullhorn in the valley. They started asking for a party on the Nose a pile of questions, indicating that they should use hand signals for yes / no responses. (I guess there must have been someone up there). They asked some basic stuff before questioning them about leader falls, and the extent of injuries suffered. From the conversation I gathered that a leader fell and somehow injured a hand.

A bit of time passed and I remember that it was starting to get late in the day. The sun was low and the wind started up by the time I saw the helicopter re-starting it's engine. This time it carried a YOSAR ranger dangling below it swinging in the breeze. It made it's way back to the spot it had been earlier. This time however it was much closer to the face. From our vantage point, the spinning blades seemed as if they were grazing the wall. It was impressive. It hovered there fighting the wind for about 10 minutes it seemed. I remember thinking that if the pilot blew it... it would mean fiery metal death raining down on us (Nice).
The YOSAR chopper lifts off from the valley with a climbing ranger in tow.
The helicopter moves into position.
And the rescue pick-off is underway. Look closely and there's a big helicopter hugging that big cliff!
Fortunately, this pilot had skills. I'd come to find out several days later that the dangling ranger had to throw a bean-bag in at the stranded climbers connected to a rope used to haul him into their anchor. He apparently had 7 of these bean-bag lines and the climbers fumbled the first 6. I'd also learn that the leader somehow managed to sever his thumb clean off in a fall. It somehow got tangled in a sling... although I have a hard time picturing the circumstances.

The most impressive and improbable thing about the whole event is yet to come. We quickly found out on the wall that any object not connected firmly to your party is lost. We managed to drop a cam, a wag-bag, and a helmet-cam (most of which were supposedly attached). Absolutely defying this universal rule was that instead of disappearing into space, the severed thumb somehow dropped and landed on a small ledge near the party's belayer. It was collected up and the rescue was completed in quick enough time such that the climber apparently had it reattached! Almost unbelievable but such is what we heard. Only in Yosemite could a big-wall climber have a reasonable expectation of a rescue 2000' off the ground and such a successful outcome. Anywhere else and the consequences would surely have been very serious.

Anyway... an impressive show thanks to the YOSAR team.

...the story about our climb to be continued tomorrow. 

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