ElCap Report Rockfall Rescue Edition 9.27.17

ElCap Report Rockfall Edition 9/27/17

By Tom Evans

Yo…The weather has been really nice for the past few days and big wall climbers are back in force.  Today was one of those perfect days that everyone had a nice comment about while hanging in the meadow.  However nice the weather was, the rest of the day was ruined by a huge rockfall that came thundering down the SE face of ElCap, just right of the Waterfall route.  The rockfall struck at 1:51pm with a loud cracking sound and then billows of dust rose from the base of the rock.  Fortunately, there was a strong west wind blowing the dust rapidly to the east, so we were able to see the cliff right away. 

About half an hour before the fall, three people were seen walking among the remains of the last rockfall, from two years ago.  We watchers immediately scanned the base in hopes of seeing three people fleeing the area.  Unfortunately, I was only to see a woman, helped by someone, slowly moving to the west.  Immediately after the fall many people called in to report the rockfall and the possibility that there were people struck by it.  YOSAR quickly arrived on scene, with all their resources, to evaluate the situation and help in any way possible.  The shots below will tell the story, but not in the detail that would do justice to all those responsible for the rescue effort.  Many people, you will never know about, made important contributions to the rescue.  YOSAR continues to amaze with their efficiency and outright courage...dedicated professionals willing to risk their lives to save others... proud!

Today’s ElCap Report..written just for you…unique in all the world!

1)  This is a shot of the first of 6 rockfalls that happened over a 4 hour period.



























2)  YOSAR was quickly on the scene and made a plan to deal with the situation.  The woman mentioned above was over by the base of Zodiac being helped and comforted by climbers who were in the area.  She needed immediate medical assistance and evacuation.








3)  Soon the new #551 fire chopper arrived to do the heavy lifting of first responders and their equipment to the scene.




























4)  A ground team was assembled to take litters and such up to the base of the cliff on foot.  This is necessary in case the helicopter was not able to fly in the present conditions.  Also the ground team was too big to quickly fly up to the scene.



























5)  Soon two rescue rangers, Jesse Mcgahey and Phil Johnson were whisked away on the end of a 200ft line and were soon flying to the scene.





























6)  Jesse and Phil flying to the base of ElCap.





























7)  Soon after arriving the rangers and climbers on the scene had the woman ready for transport to the meadow and an awaiting medivac chopper to take her to Modesto.






























8)  Here one of the rangers, Jesse I think, and the woman are seen lifting off the ground for the quick flight to the meadow.






























9)  Moments later they arrived at the meadow.





























10)  The woman was treated briefly and was soon off to the hospital. 




























11)  However, the YOSAR operations were far from over.  The injured woman’s husband was still up there at the edge of the rockfall.  During the rescue, several secondary rockfalls happened and we were all concerned with those people still up at the base of the wall.  So, #551 conducted more lifts of men and gear to the scene.  Pilot Chris Creamer, did the kind of precise flying that we have come to expect from YOSAR pilots.  He was helped by Andrew Davenport, his spotter, seen here in the shot.




























12)  Here is a close up of one of the rescue team riding the chopper rope, with more gear for the retrieval of the woman’s husband, who was unfortunately killed by the rockfall.





























13)  The chopper quickly arrived with the ranger and his equipment.






























14)  The YOSAR ground team had been at the base for some time and had a briefing on what they were to do the safely recover the remains of the deceased man. Here they are walking up to the area where the deceased was located. 









15)  Above the whole rescue scene hung the unstable rocks that would, themselves, be obliterated the next day by one of the largest rockfalls ever seen on ElCap.




























16)  I got this shot of the most recent rockfall scar, yesterday (9/29/17)  Rather impressive if I say so myself.































The rock to the east of Zodiac is now far too unstable for any climbing or hiking the base. So please stay away from this area.  We were fortunate that the team of Patrick, Pete, and Ryan who were climbing on the waterfall route were high enough to avoid being involved the rockfall.  They were fortunate to have escaped with their lives as earlier on their climb they spent two days camped in the rockfall area.

In other news:  Due to the massive rockfall on the 28th the North Side Drive is close until the rock can be cleared from the road.  The fall yesterday went over the road and into the river and crews are working round the clock to fix the road.  Traffic patterns in the valley have been rearranged so pay attention when you are driving in the Valley.  (As of 10/1 the roads are back to their normal pattern).

So that’s the way it was, on this sad day.. the 27th day of September, 2017.  Our hearts go out to the injured woman, her deceasted husband and their family and we all wish her a speedy recovery.

Capt. Tom

Thanks Tom! Really appreciate

Thanks Tom! Really appreciate you being on scene to help us assess with your camera. Appreciate the shots of us doing some exciting work!

Jesse McGahey--Climber, Ranger, and Rescuer

Thank you, Capt. Tom

Day by day you faithfully position your awesome third eye toward the massive ancient walls that awaken a primordial desire to gaze upon them for an eternity, or to conquer them and in doing so quell the fear of one's own mortality, or to merely move into a close proximity to their beginning spire to be one with this massive ancient beginning of time. Each day brings new pilgrims, paying homage to something so immense that even standing at its base, or climbing its walls or topping out defies the conscious understanding, but fulfills that unspoken of void within an ancient place that resides in all of us. Thank you for the thoughtful and exceedingly heartfelt narrative with each perfect photograph, telling a difficult story, a true story witnessed by the world, but put into proper and respectful perspective for the world to better understand, appreciate and benefit from. My sincere condolences to the loved ones, family and friends of the pilgrim. Thank you for being you and fulfilling your gift and sharing with us. Finally, to the men and women of YOSAR, NPS and emergency services, you are our heros who put yourselves at great risk to care for your fellow man; we are greatly indebted to each and every one of you!


Very sad.

Thank you Tom for reporting on this. Huge thanks to YOSAR and other first responders for their efforts and huge risks they took while helping those in need. Hi to Pete, Ryan and Patrick. Glad you guys made it off okay.