It was a terrible autumn for the Yosemite community this year, with a rash of accidents and deaths of both locals and visitors. It started for me on Labor Day Sunday when I was one of the first on scene of a ten year-old visitor who flipped a four-wheeler while riding illegally on the roads of Yosemite West.
He had hit the guard rail and lost his helmet and was complaining of pain in the lower back and wanted to move. Because he had hit the guardrail hard enough to knock his helmet off, though, I was worried about C-spine damage and didn't want to let him move too much until he had a collar and had his spine stabilized. By the time the ambulance crew got there, he was showing noticeable signs of shock: dilated and unresponsive pupils, rapid and labored breathing, becoming pallid, and I could not find a peripheral pulse. All of this suggested serious internal bleeding and, in fact he had ruptured his spleen and ended up having a full cardiac and pullmonary arrest in the helicopter and needed to be resuscitated. The doctors and the hospital informed the parents he wasn't going to make it, but amazingly, the kid pulled through and after two weeks unconscious, he came out of it and is now back at school from latest reports!
Then on October 5, Yosemite lost one of it's long-time residents. Steve Medley, president of the Yosemite Association for the last 21 years, died in a car crash on highway 140. This was the first shocker for the community. I did not know Steve personally, but so many people I know did that this was quite different from when a random visitor dies (not to be callous mind you).
Then, on October 21, a long-time employee of the Ahwahnee Hotel committed suicide. Though he had a supportive family and many friends who had tried hard to reach out, somehow it wasn't enough. Again, not someone I knew, but we have several friends who work at the Ahwahnee or who otherwise knew Eric and our symptathies go to them and to Eric's family.
Just the next day, Theresa and I were scramblig a short way up Le Conte Gully (aka Ashcan Alley) when Theresa dislodged a boulder about 3-4 feet in diameter (thus 2200-5000 pounds by my calculations). It rolled over her and caused severe damage to her spine and resulted in a dramatic helicopter rescue and transport to the hospital in Modesto where they decided they did not have the skill to fix her spine and that she needed a top surgeon at a top hospital and sent her on to Stanford, where Stephen Ryu, our new best friend, fixed her up. Dr Ryu said that he had rarely seen that much damage without paralysis, and yet Theresa is up and walking and, except for five fused vertabrae, will make a fairly complete recovery, though we'll see how much hiking, climbing and skiing she'll be able to do in her future.
The very next day, Todd Skinner, well-known here for his rock climbing accomplishments, fell to his death on Leaning Tower. Again, Todd isn't someone I know and he's not local, but being somewhat tapped into the climber community, we have several friends who knew Todd. I had only seen him once, but he gave a really funny slide show about his and Paul Piana's first free ascent of the Salathe Wall and I'm sorry to see anyone with such a good sense of humor leave this world.
Later that week (this is really getting crazy at this point), another employee was killed in car crash. I didn't find out about this until I went back home from Stanford hospital to grab a few things and two of our carpenters and friends, cousins of the victim, were gone for the day to go to the funeral. This tragic death was caused by a driver who was under the influence of, so it seems, multiple drugs and was eating in the car and swerved into the oncoming lane and killed Clay's cousin. The driver survived and it looks like he's going to do time for his crime, but that's small consolation to the family who is still pretty shaken up.
Finally, in early November, a visitor died on Half Dome. Apparently she had successfully summited and was descending, but the Cables Trail is considerably harder in November since the cables are down for the season. She slipped and fell a few hundred feet, but was much less lucky than Theresa. Though helicopters were standing by in the Valley to perform the rescue, flight conditions did not permit them to land on the Half Dome shoulder. The victim died there and her body was evacuated by helicopter the next day.
To my knowledge, that's the last death, but at the same time as that accident, one of our friends and neighbors went into the hospital with a heart valve infection and was in grave condition for a week. He seems okay. Then, the day we got back, we had dinner with another friend who had been diagnosed the day before with cancer. That was Thanksgiving. Things finally seem to have mellowed out thank God. Let's hope this winter is better.
Related: Recent Deaths on Half Dome (June 2007)