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Local climber recognized for bravery

DARIN OLDE, Sierra Sun

Mark Garbarini, a new Truckee resident, was recognized by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and awarded the Citizen’s Award for Bravery Oct. 30 for his work as a member of the Yosemite Search and Rescue team.

Garbarini traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive the award from Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt for a rescue he participated in on Feb. 6, 1999. This is the first time any member of the rescue team has received the award.

Almost two years ago, Yosemite National Park received a report of a person in distress who was seen waving his arms and screaming for help within the Inner Gorge of Yosemite Falls.

Garbarini, Jo Whitford, Werner Braun and Jay Salvedge from Yosemite Search and Rescue responded along with park rangers.

A rescue was initiated despite bad weather and no information on the condition of the hiker.

“We had just gotten back from something else,” recalled Garbarini. “We were understaffed because of the time of year.”

It was near dusk, the park was experiencing a winter storm, and the only way to get to the injured hikers was by foot and a series of technical rappels.

Due to a limited response team of only six rescuers, Garbarini, carrying a heavy pack that included medical gear, technical gear and swift water gear, hiked up Yosemite Falls trail to the Inner Gorge in darkness. Garbarini descended an area of active rock fall, traversed wet sloping granite slabs and made several rappels through rain and sleet.

“The kid was on the (Yosemite) Falls trail. It looks cool, so people hike down there … He had tumbled down a low-angle wash … I had been there before for rescue, but not for recreation,” he said.

During the descent one of the rappel lines was nearly cut by a falling rock, a circumstance that put several of the rescuers at severe risk, a situation Garbarini describes as “disheartening.”

Once inside the Inner Gorge, search and rescue fixed safety lines to traverse a series of slabs directly over Yosemite Creek. They arrived at ledges next to the lip of the lower Yosemite Falls.

The victim, on a ledge 300 feet above the waterfall, had abrasions to his face and hands, and was in-and-out of consciousness. The victim had trauma to his head, wrist and ankle and was suffering from hypothermia.

Due to the unstable terrain and slick slabs, the victim had to be lowered 300 feet to the ground. The closest natural descent line was 80 feet to the west.

Rescuers established anchors with the use of both natural and artificial aids. Once cleared, the victim was packaged, moved across the ledges to the anchors and lowered safely to the ground.

Garbarini is bashful about the award, since he was the first member of search and rescue to receive it.

“The team that was there before [I joined Yosemite Search and Rescue] was really incredible. The Dept. of the Interior recognized me for things that those guys were doing all the time. I was simply trying to fill in their shoes,” he said.

A search and rescue member for the last four and a half years, Garbarini has climbed countless walls in Yosemite Valley and set several more. Garbarini describes the routes he pioneered as obscure, and modestly claims his free-climbing ability as moderate.

Garbarini moved to Truckee about two months ago.


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