Secrets from the Park Ranger Files: Yosemite

Part 5 of 6: These funny, scary, and downright bizarre true stories come from rangers in some of America's favorite national parks. This week we hear from a ranger in Yosemite National Park.
El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California
El Capitan looms over Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park. (iStockphoto)

Yosemite National Park
John Dill, a ranger who first started working in Yosemite National Park in 1970, recounts a harrowing tale about an adventuresome park visitor who has to be one of the luckiest souls around.

A few years ago, Dill recalls, an 18-year-old guy named Graham set out from Tenaya Lake in the park hoping to do a day trip into Yosemite Valley through Tenaya Canyon, a route that involves some technical canyoneering skills. Graham, a lifelong climber, brought a rope (most people need to do a few rappels to get through the canyon) but no helmet or hardware. He’d been told by friends that the rappels were not too steep and he might not need a rope at all if he stayed to the right.

Graham picked his way down some steep terrain before a big waterfall stopped him in his tracks. There, his rope wouldn’t reach all the way to the bottom. It was close, though, so Graham wrapped his rope around a tree and figured he could hand-over-hand his way down to a slab and then climb the rest of the way down to a shallow pool of water below.

When he was five or ten feet from the end of the rope, and only five feet from the slab, he lost his grip and fell. Graham tumbled down the slab, bouncing hard two or three times, and then fell another horrific 80 feet into a pool of water below that was only a foot or so deep.

“I remember opening my eyes after I landed and thinking, ‘Holy $%*&, I fell!’” Graham said in a report Dill wrote. “I touched my head and saw that I was bleeding.  When I stood up to walk away, I was hit with excruciating pain in my right leg. I looked down and saw that it was pointing in the wrong direction.”

Even more miraculous than Graham surviving the fall is the fact that his cell phone did too, and he got a signal. “Cell coverage in the backcountry is pretty sparse,” Dill says. “Somehow, even though his phone was in a pool of water, it still worked, and he managed to call for help.” In fact, Graham’s rescuers couldn’t even get a signal once they got to him.

In the end, Graham was helicoptered out with a shattered right femur, a cracked pelvis, and a compression fracture in his lower back. Nine months later, doctors cleared him to do whatever activities he wanted.

“Am I shocked that he lived through this?” Dill asks. “No, not really. I’ve seen people take some horrendous falls and survive. He was extraordinarily lucky, though.”

Don’t be that guy…
Some people call Tenaya Canyon the Bermuda Triangle of Yosemite, saying it was cursed long ago by a scorned Native American chief. Cursed or not, the canyon is dangerous territory, and rangers discourage people from going down it. But if you’re interested in seeing Yosemite from a different angle, sign up for a guided climb with Yosemite Mountaineering School. All of the guided climbs are basically lessons, too, and trained guides can take you up just about anything, including El Cap, a six-day expedition on one of the most famous big walls in the world.

Published: 28 May 2012 | Last Updated: 29 May 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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