BIG WALLS, SWIFT WATERS
to. Luckily, it worked out fine despite Thompson’s trepidation at using a terribly wrong tool for lowering rescuers nearly 3,000 feet. Neither of the 4,400-foot-long rolls were ever used by the park.
Local police departments drove the ropes to nearby El Toro Marine Air Station. They were then flown to El Cap Meadow in two large, twin-rotor CH-46 helicopters. Other retail outdoor companies in the Bay Area, such as The Ski Hut and The North Face, sent real climbing rope as well as a seemingly endless supply of colored nylon webbing, hundreds of carabiners, 150 bolts, dozens of pitons, piton hammers, water bottles, dried food, and other long accessory lines and cords. These purchases were all picked up by the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit and transported by the California Highway Patrol.
Before they returned to their home base at El Toro that evening, the Marine Corps flew more equipment and manpower to the staging scene on top of El Capitan. There was a pile of equipment on the peak that night that had to be sorted and then placed in the right spot for the next morning. During the height of the stretcher lowering later in the day, several hundred people stood along the road and in the meadow, at the base of El Cap, most with their binoculars pointed toward the cliff.
Six of the Camp 4 SAR-site climbers, including Bev Johnson, rappelled down to Camp V that first afternoon. Up top, the operation was mostly engineered by Loyd Price, although all of the climbers knew what to do and pitched in. They knotted together enough yachting ropes to create two 3,000-foot lengths. One rope made a directional change at the victim’s tiny ledge far below; the other ran straight from the final lip of El Capitan to Olsen’s litter, attended by Camp 4 superstar Jim Bridwell. Although it took more than 36 hours to fully orchestrate, once underway it took only 90 minutes for the two to be lowered down the remaining 1,800 feet of sheer cliff. It went off without a hitch. The five still on the ledge, as well as Olsen’s partner, elected to come down that night, after dark. Al Garza, the park’s chief electrician, built a huge light bank and illuminated almost the entire 3,000-foot face of the great cliff. Neal’s leg healed, and he continued to climb for the next four decades.
This mission earned a Department of the Interior Unit
Citation for the El Capitan Rescue Team from Secretary of the Interior Rogers C. B. Morton. It was granted in recognition of the high degree of professionalism and valor exhibited.