Outside Celebrating: The Case for Carrying Capacities

https://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/climbing/yosemite-free-solo-fall-josh-ourada-nutcracker/

The entire Outside piece is a macabre celebration by the Magazine of solo free climber Josh Ourada living from a 200 foot fall — in his own words.

It is also a story of how the lack of legally mandated carrying capacities can result in death to himself and others, discounting subsidized search and rescue fiscal costs and personnel emotional toll.

Could this all have been avoided with NPS carrying capacities and quotas, in this case climbing routes in Wilderness?

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Yosemite and other NPS units are legally required to develop carrying capacities. There are none in YOSE for anyone or "permitted" activity.

Most of the walls that surround the Valley are designated Wilderness that are to remain "untrammeled.” Here Ourada describes why the spring is a good time to climb - the Park is less crowded - but all the climbs are packed.

"Early spring is prime climbing season in Yosemite—a good time to beat crowds and get on the walls before the temperatures get too high—and the weather that day was nice, reaching up in the seventies. So, predictably, there were quite a few climbing parties at the Buttress. There were two parties of two already climbing and nearing a ledge at the top of the second pitch of the Nutcracker. To kill time while I waited for the Nutcracker to open up, I decided to wander and check out other routes. All the other routes that would have been reasonable free solos were occupied, so I waited until I could climb my first choice."

Ourada then became impatient like anyone in a crowded venue, like a peak season motorist tailgating.

"I was starting to get a little antsy, and with all the other routes full, I decided to ask some of the climbers on the wall if I could climb behind them rather than wait for them to top out. I knew I’d quickly meet them on that ledge since I didn’t have to do any belaying or waiting for partners. Hindsight is 20/20 of course: I was definitely making decisions out of impatience."

But, he didn't care and asked a group if he could do the equivalent of a golfing party playing through - on a route meant for a single party - placing the group at risk. It may have felt normal to him but I wonder how it really felt to the group on which he was imposing. Note Outside never asked that other group members what they thought.

"To me it felt like a pretty normal climb, even with the groups on the wall, so I had no reason to be nervous while ascending. I pretty quickly got up to where a climber was on a larger ledge where you can stop and stand. I spoke with the belayer and asked if I could keep climbing with them, and they gave me the OK, so after a quick rest, I jumped back on the wall."

In fact, he wasn't concerned about the group at all - just his own goals.

"I was just past the top of the third pitch, and there were three climbers on the wall ahead of me and the belayer still on the ledge below me—that was something I was aware of, but since things were going smoothly and they were friendly, I wasn’t concerned about being so close to them."

The Crux of this critique, something both Ourada and the NPS should have thought before his climb even began — safety.

"Below, I could see the person on the ledge. I was falling right toward them. I remember thinking, OK, I need to find a spot to fall so that hopefully I don’t hurt anyone. I have a lot of guilt about how my accident put those climbers in harm’s way. It was my first thought once I realized where I was falling."

Suddenly, the group that was impacted by Ourada’s impatience fostered by no NPS carrying capacity became a Search and Rescue team.

Bureaucracies do have personnel to help pick up the literal pieces and SAR costs money - the NPS (or the US for that matter) requires no climbing/SAR insurance unlike many other countries - becoming a subsidy. Further, think about the emotional costs to all, the impacted climbing group who was not with Ourada and to SAR personnel as a job.

Note neither Ourada nor Outside mention these costs.

"The belayer called Yosemite Search and Rescue for help, and looked out for me while we waited. He kept me out of shock and tried to distract me from the pain."

Snip.

"It took about two hours before the YOSAR team arrived. It was a huge relief to see them. After getting looked over medically, the rescue team had to figure out how to best take me down from the wall, which was tricky—they first wanted to lower me to the ground with ropes, but decided that it was too risky with my injuries. Using a helicopter with a stretcher attached, they picked me up from the ledge and flew me to nearby El Capitan Meadow, where they planned to transfer me to a larger helicopter that could transport me to a hospital in Fresno."

If the NPS had adhered to the law and developed carrying capacities to control unsafe overcrowding (much less trammelling), perhaps Ourada wouldn’t have been so impatient given rules that may have governed his actions.

"This accident changed my entire life. I had planned to spend the next month training to climb the Nose on El Cap. On an emotional level, I’m going to be processing this event for a long time. The feelings are still really raw—regret, naturally, comes to the forefront. I regret putting other climbers at risk, and I regret the impatience I felt."

Unlike Ourada, bureaucracies have no regret.

Like bureaucrats, he sheds responsibility for putting others at risk for his impatient crowding, here in Climbing Magazine blaming the slowpokes like a tailgating motorist on the way to The Valley on CA 140, people who every year kill someone on a Merced River curve.

Up until this accident, I haven’t thought too much about it. But in my opinion, if someone lets you pass… It’s not something we really think about, but if you let a soloist past, you are accepting a certain amount of risk, the same as if you let a roped party pass and they knock rocks down.”

Homemaker