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Speaking of skills---do you know where you are?

Gotta love this story from Yosemite Valley:


Yosemite National Park (CA) Injured Hiker Extricated From Top Of Lower Yosemite Fall

On the afternoon of Saturday, April 27th, the park communication center received a transfer call from an injured hiker from the California Highway Patrol. Fernando Celis reported that he was at the base of a waterfall in between some boulders and that he was badly injured and couldn’t walk. Celis couldn’t identify his location, say how he’d become injured, or advise the location of the group he was with. Rangers were dispatched to the bases of Lower Yosemite, Bridalveil, Nevada and Cascade Falls to search for Celis and other rangers were placed on standby to search other park waterfalls if necessary. Rangers found Celis’ hiking group within about an hour and learned that they’d hiked the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail and that Celis had become separated from the group along the trail between the bottom of Upper Yosemite Fall and top of Lower Yosemite Fall. Hasty teams were sent up the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail and to Sunnyside Bench (on the opposite side of the river) to search for Celis. A helicopter was ordered as a search platform and for a possible hoist mission. California Highway Patrol helicopter H-20 from Auburn, California, arrived around 5 p.m. and began an air reconnaissance of the area.  The crew spotted Celis on a ledge near the top of Lower Yosemite Fall after about an hour and successively inserted rangers Aaron Smith and David Pope by hoist to the ledge. The rangers packaged Celis in a KED and Stokes litter. He was hoisted from the ledge, transferred to a medical helicopter at Ahwahnee Meadow, and flown to Doctor's Medical Center in Modesto.  H-20 then hoisted the rangers from the ledge. Yosemite Valley District Ranger Jack Hoeflich served as the incident commander.

Just about every lost hiker who started out with a group and ended up lost got lost "after becoming separated from the group" and in many instances it is because they went looking for privacy to potty, then got disoriented and headed "back" to the group in the wrong direction.  And inevitably they had no idea where they were when they fist left the group so they can't help SAR with location even though they make cell phone contact.

Wow what a story. Lots of money spent there too huh?

I do my absolute best to keep up with where I am at all times, and I think it is good to practice with a map & compass while you are on a clearly marked trail and know where you are instead of waiting until you are lost and trying to remember how to orient the map, box the needle, and all that jazz.

Having said that, I have been on many group hikes in years past where I just played follow the leader.

Mike G.

Mike said:

Having said that, I have been on many group hikes in years past where I just played follow the leader.

When Barb and I lead the snowshoe ecology hikes for Clair Tappaan Lodge (Sierra Club Lodge near Donner Pass in the Sierra), somewhere along the line, usually about 2/3 or 3/4 of the way, I stop the group (typically 5 to 10 people) and pose the question, "If I were to collapse right now, can you, first, summon help, and second, find your way back to the Lodge?" I never cease to be amazed that virtually the whole group answers "no" to both questions. Some say they would use their cell phones, to which I say, "check your cell right now" (I always pick a location where there is no cell coverage). Next question is "Which way is North?" Again, almost none ever are able to figure this out, even though I always pick the time and location to be about noon (BIG clue, since almost all the hikes are on sunny days - where is the sun in the sky at noon? And if that doesn't get an answer, then "Why is it called 'High Noon'?"

The "Follow the Leader" syndrome is all too common. I have even found myself falling into that trap on a "group of friends" trip where "Charlie" came up with the idea for the trip to a "new place". Usually, I do catch myself in the first 10 or 15 minutes of leaving the trailhead and start paying attention to landmarks and taking a look behind every so often, especially when there is a fork in the trail ("When you find a fork in the trail, take it!" - Great cartoon from the past 3rd cartoon in the list!)

The Friends of YOSAR website has lots of these stories-

Yosemite gets everyone from city dwellers with absolutely no experience in the wild to experienced climbers and every skill level in between, plus it gets millions of visitors each year, so no surprise how many rescues happen every year.

It is possible this guy couldn’t identify his whereabouts or what happened because he bumped his head.  My question is why didn’t anyone in the group notice his absence?


I agree with Ed. In a 'hiking group', there should be at least one person who is responsible for keeping track of where everybody is, and anyone who wants to sneak away for a 'personal moment' should also be aware that they are responsible for notifying the group so they can wait. 

And the second someone realized there was a person missing the group should have retraced its steps to find them. 

Poor group management skills are to blame for this one. 

Good posts by Bill and Peter.  Send the victim the bill for his stupidity.  This story helps explain why people so willingly pay $50-100 to go on a "guided" hike or snowshoe trip or kayak trip.  They are clueless and happy to remain that way.

Kudos to Bill and Peter for recognizing the human nature of modern day urbanites and developing a plan to teach them.  I thought of teaching a class this spirng on backpacking, but gave up on it because of stories just like this one.

Nearly forty years ago, I visited a friend who was attending college in Portland(Oregon). We were going to go BC skiing with some friends of his on Mt. Hood. I didn't know the area, was just along for the ride. They took a route that was beyond my friend's ability and so told us to "circle" around and meet us back at the cars. I had my compass but no map, or idea of the "route" eventually, we made it back to the cars. 

At the time, I knew better, but went with the group decision to separate in unfamiliar terrain. Lessons learned...stay together, don't pick a route beyond the least experienced person's ability, and everyone should know the route. Fortunately, with headlamps, and a logging road and compass heading to follow, we got out, well after dark, and just before my buddy's friends were going to call SAR.

I lead hikes for a local meetup group.  I am a NYS licensed guide, but the meetup hikes are just informal social gatherings rather than guided hikes under my license.  However, most of my hikes are bushwhacks rather than on established trails.

Like Bill I try to teach the participants the importance of knowing our location and how to keep track of our approximate location.  I post detailed maps and descriptions of the hikes they can print and bring with them.  I stop occasionally to demonstrate how to check where e have been, where are are, and where we are going.  I repeatedly post my "dumb way to let someone else die" parable and ask them to read Twenty-one things you should never take on a day hike and the reasons why 

And still, I get repeat participants who show up for the hikes with nothing but the clothes on their backs.


During a group hike a member of the group became ill or injured, and another member of the group starts administering first aid and instructs you to call 911. After explaining the situation to the operator, you are asked "where are you now?" to which you can only reply "I don't know" or "somewhere in a state park" or "in some forest but I can't remember the name." 

Now think how your survivors would feel if you are the person who was injured or became ill in that situation and the other members of the group were all clueless as to their location while trying to summons 911.

When hiking in a group, knowledge of where you have been, where you are, and where you are headed is not just for your benefit. That knowledge doesn't just help you if you become separated from the group. Location knowledge also allows you to contribute to aiding others in an emergency. Without that knowledge you aren't much more than a rock in another hiker's backpack. 

Don't go on hike without first studying a map. Don't go on a hike without a map. Don't hike without stopping often enough to consult your map to determine where you have been, where are going, and where you are headed. 

"I don't know" is a dumb way to let someone else die.

This is one of those scenarios where it is not only good to have an experienced leader but also another experienced individual who is familiar with the area pulling up the rear.

2 sets of eyes are better than one and the last time I checked mine are not mounted to the back of my cranium. ;)

I'm not saying that this is the end all be all solution so situations such as this no longer happens but it would most certainly help in regards to group accountability.

ppine said:

..Send the victim the bill for his stupidity...

The story as told makes the victim sound stupid, but I am not willing to quickly jump to such conclusions.  For all we know he took all the appropriate precautions nominally expected for a walk along a tourist trail.  He could have been simply the tail-end-Charlie of the group, slipped on trail due to slippery conditions near the falls, fell down the hill, hit his head, and voila!  He's injured, disoriented, has no idea what happened nor where he is. 


I agree, without more complete information it is impossible to determine whether he suffered from some incident that made it impossible for him to remember where had been that day, and where he was when he became separated, and the ability to use his map and compass to approximate his current location.  

But don't you agree that "appropriate precautions" for any trail, tourists or otherwise, would include knowledge of your planned hike, checking your progress to know where you have been, checking your location upon becoming separated, and using you map and compass to facilitate your knowledge.

I blame the trip leadership - send them the bill. at least the guy had a working cell phone.

And another Yosemite SAR .. this guy found at the base of Vernal Falls today...

ppine said:

... people so willingly pay $50-100 to go on a "guided" hike or snowshoe trip or kayak trip. 

LOL I charge a heck of a lot more than that!


I am talking about a 1/2 day trip which is the attention span of many inexperienced people.

I teach introductory classes in another hobbyist subject (wine) and I would be very surprised if my students stayed interested for a full 1/2 day course.  A couple of hours is a lot.

Newbies are newbies because they aren't sure they really ARE going to like our hobby.  And that's perfectly understandable.  Within any class, we are going to find a few who fall in love with it, and take it up with great enthusiasm.  And few who find that they hate it and never return.

And the majority will be people who do it every once in a while, usually with a large group of friends...and not very well.  That's what happened on this hike. 

I was amazed that the rangers were able to find and rescue this guy.  I did not expect that the thread would become a general thrashing of people who hike once in a  blue moon and don't do it very well.



Trailjester said:

I blame the trip leadership - send them the bill. at least the guy had a working cell phone.

 That would be my way.... Any group should have a leader and a last man to collect any stragglers. In fact IMO the leader should be dead last and have a trusted buddy lead.

In thick cover a called out number system works well.

I agree with whatme ED on not enough info.

Trip leader?  Not every group has a leader.  Even when the group might be part of a larger organized event, it is unrealistic to think that there will be an appointed or elected leader for every hike.

Usually, a group  of people decide to go on a hike.  Some have reservations about how hard the hike is going to be, and so they explain that they may not hike as fast, nor as far, as others in the group. Others may be really interested in the birds, but not so much in the waterfalls.  Others may want to fish, and so will only go on part of the hike.   The group factures almost immediately upon hitting the trail and may never coalesce again--unless they plan to eat together.

And while I admire the aspirations of the people here who think that every hike is some kind of organized and more or less professional undertaking....I have spent way too much time on trails in National Parks to believe that. Families, church groups, work colleagues, and groups of friends all go on hikes.  And none of them ever elect or select a leader. 

Should rangers require every group to have a permit and elect a leader?   









November 24, 2020
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