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Rescue: South Fork of Tuolumne river

Discussion in 'Accidents and Near Misses' started by hank moon, Oct 23, 2017.

  1. hank moon

    hank moon lovely ligatures

    Date unknown.

    26 TECHNICAL RESCUE E-magazine 21

    ED: Mike Crosslin, in fact Dr Mike Crosslin to you, is one of the original trio of swiftwater misceants along with Jim Segerstrom and Barry Edwards responsible for shaping swiftwater rescue into what it is today. They formed Rescue 3 and Jim always said that Mike was a genius with hippy overtones: Sometimes there is a particular mission that etches itself so strongly in our mind stream that you recognize only later how powerful it was.

    THE call that convinced me that cross-training SAR members in multiple areas, teaching them well and pushing them hard has big payoffs. This was pre-Rescue3...but helped steer the boat for curriculum development. We had just started TCSAR in the central Sierra with a devoted group of climbers, rafting guides and volunteers...our area of responsibility huge, remote , trecherous and full of excitement in the early days of the climbing and whitewater boom.

    Canyoneering had just begun in many remote canyons in the central Sierra...many clamoring for first descents. Our team roster was all volunteer, and often thin, especially on days with multiple calls. This call only three showed up...the magic number. Myself, and two newly trained team members...just having spent a week with Guide Doug Robinson in the high Sierra learning to climb and set up technical systems.

    Their first callout was historic...they saved a life. Not just the victims...mine too.

    Two Canyoneers wanted a first descent of the South Fork of the Tuolumne river...situated on the rim of the world near the Yosemite border.

    Many long waterfall drops in a tight slot canyon...the water and slick sliver of granite the only way down. No retreat possible unless you fix lines... The two canyoneers got into trouble quickly... only after negotiating three long drops and two challenging swim outs. On the third drop the lead judged the pool below wrongly...jumping off a 80ft sliver of granite next to the river directly onto a submerged boulder...instant femur fracture...stuck in the cold mist, his partner stuck too...they fixed no ropes back. His partner was able to retreat only one drop back...and spent 12hrs screaming over the roar of the falls up to the next pool where another group was scouting the drop. Complete and total luck he was spotted, and one of the party hiked out several miles straight up to call the SO. We arrived several hours hour drive just to get to the canyon rim. This is one of the worst places you can imagine to get stranded. The only way to the canyonneers was to set fixed lines, and rap right next to the long falls. My teammates were a husband and wife...newbies just finished with a crash course in technical rescue and swiftwater orientation... I was frightened, I cant imagine what they were thinking... their first callout right into the heart of darkness...little light ever hits this slot...way too tight for a helo...the only way out is the way in... Total committment. We called for backup, but made the decision to scout ahead, fix lines and gain access...After the first two drops, Benton and Karen informed me they only jumared once and then only 30ft or so. I remember smiling and telling them they would get plenty of practice today. The first canyoneer was in pretty bad shape, shivering uncontrollably from the mist and convinced his partner was dead...hadnt heard a peep from him and decided to not make the same jump...wise decision. We learned they had no thermal lifejackets and clearly no brains.

    The river was running less than 500cfs, but drops over 500 ft/mile...freighttrain forces...only a few feet of dry granite next to the river, then steep walls making the working ledge less than 25ft by 3ft...tight and angled so any rope slides in the water...not good. Placed a 3/4 bolt at the top of the 25ft ramp and found a thin seam for some knifeblades to keep the rope out of the waterfall and set Benton and Karen to work drilling some more bolt holes and to get set to do a raising. Rappelled off next to the waterfall, I quickly assesed the gravity of the situation....mine... the smart move would have been to bail..the water periodically surging over the falls and slamming me silly...Just no room to manuever..wall then water...I could see the injured party had wedged himself in a small pocket behind the waterfall and had covered himself with trash bag from his fanny pack...saved his life no doubt. He was awake but shivering uncontrollably. Swollen thigh, broken ankle...had been munching on gorp keeping his calories up...lots of pain. . I had a surfsuit on, lifejacket, helmet...but I was getting hypothermic...cant hear my teamates above...but the plan was for me to jumar out after giving more thermal protection to the victim.

    Suddenly I feel the rope amount of yanking or screaming could stop it...thought maybe backup had arrived and the crew was set to haul...switched over quickly, put a tragsitz on and somehow was able to get the guy postioned on my back, clipped in...the rope just kept inching upward...70ft up to the ledge....seemed like forever 10ft up, then 20....relentless little jerks yanking the two of us up the trying to keep the poor bastards leg off the wall with my legs, getting slammed by surges of water, the guys arms wrapped around my neck choking me out...all bad...both of us fighting for an airway as those two knifeblades I set for direction change popped and we both pedulumned directly into the falls..last 20ft we both got yanked straight through the falls.

    We both kept our airway by keeping our heads down, ...both so cold and numb we barely speak...when we broke through the water on the lip of the falls...I could not believe my eyes....To this day I cry even thinking about it. Just Benton and Karen smilin, gear everywhere, more mechanical advantaged rigged on a single thin strip of granite than you can imagine...just two newbies despirate to raise the dead pulled off one of the most amazing feats in my SAR history... yanking two idiots straight through a slamming waterfall. Saved my doubt...and his.

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