It was a beautiful bluebird day in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. We were enjoying an afternoon in this alpine paradise when the tranquil silence slowly began to give way to the sound of a rescue helicopter approaching in the distance. The sound grew louder until the chopper passed over our heads, heading for Clyde Minaret 3,000 feet above our campsite at Minaret Lake. It circled the jagged peaks before dropping into the basin and looked like a tiny bug among the massive spires.
Time quickly passed, and the Black Hawk helicopter hovered precariously near a cliff with astounding precision for almost a half-hour. Before long, the wind picked up and afternoon clouds began to build, yet the chopper held steady.
Eventually, the helicopter lifted and started to fly away. The intense noise slowly faded, and the sound of birds and flowing streams began to return. Yet a sense of uneasiness lingered. Was the climber still alive, did he really get rescued, was he still lost somewhere in the massive cliffs?
Shortly before sunset, the chopper returned. It hovered over the cliffside for some time as daylight faded, and the it left with the final rays of daylight.
"That was weird," we thought. When suddenly I noticed a flashing light in the middle of the cliffside on Clyde Minaret. "Oh, shit."
We looked through our binoculars and clearly saw someone waving their light, perched impossibly high on a sheer vertical cliff. This had to have been the person the chopper was searching for.As dusk gave way to darkness, we noticed more lights at the top of the scree field beneath the cliff. At first I began taking photos with the intention of showing them to the ranger station early the next morning in order to help with their search, but as I continued to shoot I noticed that one of the lower lights was on the ascent. This is when we realized the person was in the process of being rescued.
It turns out these were the lights of an incredibly brazen rescue team. The helicopter had staged them at this spot where one of them would climb three pitches, splint the leg of the injured climber, and belay him down to safety—all under the faint light of a quarter moon.
In all, it probably took about two hours. You can see the climber's light at the top of the image and the partial ascent route of the rescue volunteer from below. The Black Hawk came back the next morning to pick up the climber and rescue crew (Jill watching it fly away in the image on the right).
A few days later, we found this story in the Mammoth Times. It turns out the chopper's first round was for a different accident altogether. That means there were two helicopter-worthy injuries in the same basin in one day. It goes to show just how dangerous these places can be, and it's a humbling reminder to travel the backcountry with utmost care and treat the mountains with respect.