The World’s Long­est Lower?

This tale be­gins at sun­rise on Satur­day, Septem­ber 23, 1972. Climber Neal Olsen was lead­ing a dif­fi­cult sec­tion on the twenty-fourth pitch of the

Nose on El Capitan, just above Camp V—a set of ledges about 900 feet be­low the top of the cliff. In an un­lucky ac­ci­dent, he pulled a 125-pound boul­der down on him­self. He tried to dodge it, but it still glanced off his head and back be­fore strik­ing his right leg and smash­ing it badly.

By 7:30 that morn­ing, Yosemite SAR Of­fi­cer Pete Thomp­son was or­ga­niz­ing one of the most de­mand­ing res­cues in the his­tory of North Amer­i­can moun­taineer­ing. Pete had an A-Team of six lo­cal climbers in his of­fice: Jim Brid­well, Bev John­son, Tom Gerughty, Jim Breedlove, John Dill, and Loyd Price. Their mis­sion: to de­velop an ini­tial res­cue plan, es­ti­mate equip­ment needs, and iden­tify other tech­ni­cal climbers they wished to have with them. The idea was to lower a res­cuer from the sum­mit of El Cap 900 feet down to the stricken climber. Then Olsen and his res­cuer would be low­ered to med­i­cal staff on the Val­ley floor, 1,800 feet be­low. At the time, only one other long-low­er­ing res­cue even re­motely sim­i­lar to this one had been per­formed, in Grand Te­ton Na­tional Park in Au­gust of 1967. In to­tal, 18 men and one woman—Bev John­son—would be flown to the top of El Cap that day.

The team’s task was made even harder as a re­sult of a dis­as­trous in­ci­dent ear­lier that sum­mer. Seven weeks be­fore, just past mid­night on Au­gust 1, 1972, a 17-year-old boy had torched the many tons of stacked hay in the gov­ern­ment’s horse barn. The barn and sta­bles were lost as were an­other seven older wooden struc­tures. One of these ter­ri­bly flammable Civil­ian Con­ser­va­tion Corps–era build­ings held the Val­ley SAR cache. Ropes, web­bing, pitons, bolts, cara­bin­ers, sleep­ing bags, rain gear, and re­lated,

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