Scarpa North America Blog

The Other Side of Risk: Yosemite Search and Rescue

Jun. 24th 2015

Words and Photos By Cheyne Lempe

Do you ever wonder what happens to all those close calls after they dissolve effortlessly and float away? Maybe you have heard stories and harrowing tales of near misses while sitting around a campfire. Though the percentage is low, the truth is, once in a while those near misses and close calls become a life altering accident. Unfortunately, those freaky “once in a while” events happen more frequently than you would like to know about. During the past few years of working on the Yosemite Search and Rescue team, I’ve experienced what happens on the other side of risk.

Yosemite Search and Rescue in action

Lowering rescue rangers over the side of Muir Wall on El Capitan.

Last spring, I started up the first few pitches of Mt. Watkins with Dave Allfrey as we were preparing to climb the Triple Linkup, which would be one of the biggest pushes of my life. The goal was to climb Yosemite’s three tallest walls (Mt. Watkins, El Capitan, and Half Dome) under 24 hours. I made steady pace on our training day, but felt insecure on the polished granite. Plus, I was still shaken from a recent rescue.

A few weeks prior to our linkup, I carried my friend Richie Copeland out of the backcountry in a body bag. He had been approaching a wall in Yosemite, made a false step, and was gone forever. This is just one of many examples of the scary and intimate experiences that I have had while helping people get out of trouble as part of YOSAR. “Is this really what I want to be doing with my life? My entire life revolves around doing things that involve risk, and I don’t know if I can keep doing this,” I thought to myself.

Yosemite Search and Rescue Team

Bud Miller lowers an injured climber down El Cap.

The downside of Yosemite Search and Rescue.

Waiting to get picked up off the top of El Cap after a difficult rescue.

Having witnessed so many of these types of accidents, not only with climbing, but also with hikers and backpackers in Yosemite, has completely changed my perception of risk. I’ve gone from thinking “well…that will never happen to me” to “something WILL happen to me or my friends” if we don’t take every precaution to avoid an accident. Being on YOSAR has change the way that I climb, and I am more aware than ever how fragile we are as humans.

After our training mission and a few rest days, it was time to fully commit. I focused on how Richie would want me to go fearlessly yet cautiously into this huge mission with Dave. Yes, we would be taking some calculated risks, but we would do everything possible to manage them. I subdued the feelings of sadness from losing such an incredible person, and turned to the love and freedom that climbing gives me.

Climbing in Yosemite

SCARPA athlete Dave Allfrey begins the Triple Linkup in Yosemite using the Techno X.

Climbing in Yosemite National Park

SCARPA athlete Dave Allfrey descends El Cap after climbing the Nose by headlamp.

We climbed the first, second, and then the third final wall, digging deeper than ever before. It was absolutely critical to have such a supportive partner to keep our spirits lifted when we didn’t know if it was possible to keep going. We chose to climb with wide margins of safety that allowed for mistakes, if they accidentally happened, to successfully complete the dream linkup.

Unexpected things can and will happen to anyone. From a regular cubical dwelling employee making their morning commute, to a professional mountain guide, we are all at risk. The only thing we can do is have an enormous amount of respect for the environments that we work and play in and truly listen to what is happening around us. We can’t be paralyzed the things we fear, but a huge challenge is to find the balance between passion and risk.

Climbing in Yosemite National Park

Cheyne Lempe and Dave Allfrey on top of the third and final wall of the Triple Crown Linkup.

Cheyne Lempe is a big wall and alpine climber in his fourth season with Yosemite Search and rescue. He does everything possible to mitigate risks while climbing. Cheyne and Dave have recently returned from an expedition to Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic where they used the skills learned in Yosemite to climb enormous, unclimbed big walls. He swears by the SCARPA Fuego for his search and rescue boot. “It’s the best choice for working around helicopters and wild land fire fighting in rugged terrain like Yosemite.”

Check out the full story on Cheyne and Dave’s Triple Linkup HERE
More photos, videos, and stories from Cheyne Lempe on his WEBSITE

Yosemite Search and Rescue

YOSAR members hike during an El Cap rescue in fading light.

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One Comment

  1. Steve
    Posted July 16, 2015 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Great article. A couple of minor things would improve it: some discussion of the steps that Cheyne and Dave took on their ‘Triple Linkup’ to mitigate the risks; the link to the “full story” is not working; better (some?) editing required to eliminate missing words and other grammatical problems. But I did very much appreciate the article and the topic is such an important one that merits more discussion in our community than it normally receives. Thanks.

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