18-440 August 12-13

Injured hiker/scrambler, Mt. Ritter


Loading up on a Lemoore Naval Airstation Seahawk for a night insertion on Mt. Ritter

The call was for a 21 year old female hiker/scrambler who had taken a fall on Mt. Ritter near the bottom of the chute that leads up toward the summit from the Southeast Glacier.  They had turned around an estimated 400 vertical feet from the summit, and were descending at the time of the accident. 

She sustained serious head injuries, and many scrapes, lacerations, and contusions.  She did not remember the fall, but her partner reported that her footing shifted, and she fell and landed on a snowfield, and slid down the snowfield, accelerating quickly, until her descent was arrested by a head-first slide into talus.

Four team members were flown in to a landing zone on the flanks of Mt. Ritter.  Before landing, a brief aerial search was conducted, and a flashing light was seen high on Mt. Ritter.  The helicopter landed and discharged the field team about 2,500 vertical feet below the subject location.

The field team offloaded, and the helo departed to fly a little closer to be sure that the injured party had been identified.  They felt they had a better safety margin without 900 pounds of SAR team and equipment aboard.  The helo verified that they had located the subject, reaffirmed the coordinates, and departed the area. 

The field team began hiking, making steady progress through the cross-country terrain and difficult 3rd-class rock scrambling.  The rock scrambling dissolved into the toe of the Southeast Glacier, and crampons were donned, and ice axes came out.  After an hour or so of moderate snow scrambling, a headlamp was spotted a few hundred feet above the field team, and the team quickly maneuvered to the location, arriving around 1 a.m.

The climbing party had not been prepared for a night out.  The trip was planned as a day-hike from Agnew Meadows, and though this is an ambitious day, it is certainly reasonable for a fit party.  The subject is a cross-country runner at a Southern California college, and her partner is an ultra-marathoner, so they certainly had the requisite fitness.

A very thorough patient assessment was completed, and the injuries were tended.  Due to the fact that the subject did not remember the fall, there was considerable concern about the nature of the head injuries, so the field team kept the subject awake all through the rest of the night. 

A helo extract had been promised for 8 a.m. Monday morning, but it did not materialize until 10:30.  In the meantime, the subject had been loaded in the litter and transported from the overnight location to a nearby promontory that appeared to offer easy access to the helo resource.

A CH 47 Chinook flew in, and performed an unbelievable pickup; the pilot came in sideways, then rotated the craft and backed up toward the litter and attendants, and then set the back wheels down, one wheel each on different rocks, with the front wheels hanging in the air.  The tailgate was less than 8 feet from the kneeling field team.  Very impressive airmanship.  The tailgate was lowered, and helo personnel swarmed out and grabbed the litter, and waved everyone on board.  The flight medics were working on the subject before the wheels left the ground.

The Chinook carried all to the Lee Vining International Airport, and shortly after landing, Care Flight arrived and took custody of the injured party.  She was flown to Renown, and at this time her condition is unknown, but it is expected that she should fully recover.