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Injured Climber Rescued After Night Spent Dangling From Yosemite Cliff

Emergencies: Copter crew rappels down to pluck Colorado man and companion from their perch 1,700 feet above the valley floor.

June 04, 2002|ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Yosemite park rangers staged a daring rescue of an injured rock climber Monday, plucking him from his perch with the help of a helicopter after he spent the night clinging to a sheer granite wall.

John Kurth, 33, set out early Sunday for a one-day climb with a partner up a testy route known as Direct North Buttress on Middle Cathedral Rock, but was hit in the arm by a falling rock.

Scott Gediman, a spokesman for the national park, said Kurth, an experienced climber from Durango, Colo., suffered a dislocated arm, neck injuries and a deep puncture wound, but managed to avoid plummeting from the vertical granite face.

Unable to advance or retreat, Kurth and his partner, who was not identified, were forced to spend the night on the wall, braving temperatures in the high 40s. They dangled at an elevation of 5,700 feet, about 300 feet from the top of the 2,000-foot rock.

The search-and-rescue team was alerted about 7:45 p.m. Sunday, Gediman said, but couldn't reach the two climbers before darkness engulfed the valley floor.

On Monday morning, rescuers were flown by helicopter and lowered by ropes to the top of the buttress, a classic route that sits across the valley from El Capitan.

The rangers then rappelled down to the climbers.

They stabilized Kurth's wounds, outfitted him in a harness and hauled him up the face to a place where a line from the Huey Super 205 could be lowered.

Dave Horne, a park ranger and medic, lashed himself to the injured climber, latched onto the line.

Both men were pulled aloft and ferried down by heli- copter to a meadow on the valley floor.

Paramedics took the climber to the park's clinic for evaluation. Gediman described Kurth's injuries as serious but not life-threatening. Kurth was taken to Doctor's Medical Center in Modesto for further evaluation Monday evening.

The venerable, 2,000-foot route up Direct North Buttress is widely regarded by Yosemite climbers as one of the most scenic ascents in the valley.

The route typically takes a single day to scale, though climbers on occasion are forced by weather to spend the night on the cliff face.

More than 30 national parks personnel were involved in the rescue, Gediman said.

"These guys just had an unfortunate accident," Gediman said.

Noting last week's tragic climbing accident and crash of a rescue helicopter on Mt. Hood in Oregon, he said, "we couldn't have asked for it to turn out any better."

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