YOSEMITE – Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) successfully rescued an injured climber from the Leaning Tower on Tuesday, June 25. Reports are that solo climber Shane Houbart fell on the West Face Route, hurting his back badly enough to prevent further progress.
YOSAR was alerted via telephone while Tom Evans was on hand to capture the scene in photographs. Evans runs the El Cap Report online and is an ambassador of sorts to tourists watching climbers in Yosemite, answering questions and sharing information. He documented the intensive rescue operation on his day “off.”
“It started with a call from Shane Houbart, who fell on the West Face Route,” explains Evans.”He injured his lower back and didn’t feel he could make the overhanging rappels to the deck. YOSAR swung into action early in the morning.”
Houbart has previously climbed the Lost Arrow Spire, Half Dome and the Salathe Wall in Yosemite. He travels world-wide and frequently writes about his adventures.
Despite deceptively warm temperatures in outlying areas, it had recently rained in Yosemite, leaving the Tower looking “cold and forbidding” in the early morning light, according to Evans.
Rescuers Todd Bartlow and Niels Tietze were sent to climb the four pitches to get to Houbart, crossing an exposed ledge for starters. In climbing terms, a pitch is usually considered to be the distance between two belay points. Belay points, in this case, are bolts in the granite used to assist climbers as they move up and down the mountain.
The Leaning Tower is a magnificent portion of overhanging rock that can be seen by visitors to Yosemite Valley when they leave the Wawona Tunnel. The first known ascent was in 1961.
Bartlow and Tietze made excellent time getting to the ledge, reaching Houbart in less than two hours of climbing.
“They talked the situation over and it was decided that the climber needed to be lowered off the cliff,” Evans continues, “a formidable task on the severely overhanging wall.” Yosemite fire helicopter #551 was called in, flown by Richard Shatto.
“Richard flew with precision and nerve, like we have seen him do in many past rescues. The plan was to send four rangers to the top of the rock, and lower one down 800 ft. to the injured climber and then lower him to the ground.”
Jack Hoeflick, Aaron Smith, Jesse McGahey and Chris Bellino were flown to the top. Smith was lowered down the “wildly overhanging cliff.”
After some critical maneuvering to unite the rescuers on the ledge, Houbart was treated and secured onto the litter. The injured man and Smith were then lowered out into space.
It wasn’t long before the three were hundreds of feet down and Houbart was in the hands of the ground crew.
The chopper then picked them up and flew them to the El Capitan meadow, where medical personnel were on hand to load Houbart into the ambulance and the incredible rescue was complete.
“We are always amazed at how well these difficult rescues are accomplished,” Evans stresses.
“It is only so because of hours and days of practice and hard work by the best in the west: YOSAR. Many thanks go out to the rest of the team involved in this rescue.”
Special thanks also go out to Tom Evans for his faithful reporting of this and other YOSAR efforts and for sharing them with SNO.
Houbart is presumed to be recovering and we hope to hear from him soon.
YOSAR was established in the 1960s to respond to emergencies that occur in the Park. Because of the complexity and frequency of these emergencies, the Park requires highly trained supplemental staff to assist in these events during the busy season.
The YOSAR team member volunteer position augments the Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows Districts’ operational staff as on-call resources that assist during times of emergency.
In exchange, the YOSAR team member is provided a tent cabin at the Tuolumne Meadows campground, historically referred to as a YOSAR site.