A backpacker who fell from slippery rocks in Yosemite National Park into a creek raging with springtime runoff was able to pull himself up onto a boulder just before a potentially “fatal plunge” over a waterfall and then was rescued by helicopter, the park announced Friday.
The hiker was with three others when he slipped on wet slabs and fell into the water an area known as the Inner Gorge, at the base of the 1,400-foot upper section of the famed Yosemite Falls, according to a blog post from Yosemite Search and Rescue on the park’s website.
“The creek flushed him through over 100 feet of whitewater before he was able to pull himself onto a boulder in the middle of the gorge,” the post stated. “Had the subject been unable to self-rescue by getting onto the rock, he would have taken fatal plunge over a waterfall.”
Below the middle falls section where the hiker was rescued, on May 28, is the 320-foot Lower Yosemite Fall.
One of the backpacker’s friends called 911, and rangers responded, finding the man laying stranded on a boulder below a series of cascades in the middle of Yosemite Creek’s violent whitewater, rated class V+.
A rope rescue would have taken too long due to “extremely wet and difficult terrain,” and the hiker was already suffering from hypothermia, according to the post.
Normally, a helicopter rescue wouldn’t be attempted because of dangerous high-gusting winds from the falls. But a helicopter pilot determined it was safe on the day of the rescue — May 28.
A rescuer was lowered from a helicopter onto the boulder where the victim waited, video from the scene showed. The rescuer put a harness onto the hiker, and the two were lifted from the creek.
The hiker was transferred by ambulance to a hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia. He was otherwise was not injured.
The base of Upper Yosemite Falls, where the backpacker fell in, can be reached by branching off a strenuous but popular trail to the top of the falls. Altogether, the 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls are the tallest in North America.
Yosemite Search and Rescue warned hikers to stay away from rocks along rivers when traveling in areas with shift-running water.
“Many visitors slip on slick rock every year and a few are swept away, often suffering serious injuries or death,” the post stated. “Look where the current will take you before approaching the water. Even water that looks calm can have powerful —often deadly — currents. ”