Tahquitz Rock Rescue

December 5, 2020
El Whampo route on Tahquitz Rock

Written by Tyler Shumway.

RMRU received a call out at 5:45pm after a long day of training which started at 8am at the Cactus Springs Trailhead. Just as we were making our way home, we got the call out and were to respond to Keenwild Station. Luckily, most of the team was only 30 minutes away which made for a quick response time.

The call came out for 2 climbers stuck on Tahquitz Rock. All we knew was that the lead climber had run out of rope and protection. With little to go on we prepared for a full technical rescue with 800 feet of rope and our twin tension rope system. We had 12 members respond and with an excellent turn out we prepped gear and briefed with Pilot Chad Marlatt and Technical Flight Officer Manny Romero with Riverside Sheriff Aviation. Chad and Manny were able to locate the subjects on the north face with one climber close to the top and the second a full rope length below. The plan was to insert 9 members and gear on top of Tahquitz Rock by hover step.

James and I were first to fly in and established voice contact to determine their condition and exactly what route they were on. Luckily, the winds were calm, and we could effectively communicate and get a visual by their headlamps. They confirmed they were uninjured and the route they were on was El Whampo a 5.7 route which is a 5-pitch climb. James had scrambled down the shoulder of the rock and to the 3rd class gulley that leads to a big tree that marks the end of the technical climbing of the route. As I peered over, I saw the headlamp of the lead climber about 150 feet below. As we waited for team members to be flown in, we started building anchors and helped bring gear down.

Members doing rigging on Top.
Image by Blake.

With all 9 members accounted for and anchors built, we tied 400ft of rope together on each system since the second climber was going to be over 300ft from the edge. The plan was to lower me down to the lead climber, perform a pickoff and then have the team convert me to a raise. I was lowered down to the first climber with ease and attached him to my system. I fixed his rope to an anchor and confirmed down below to his belayer that he was also attached to an anchor below. The lead climber untied and with his weight safely on my system we were hauled back up.

Vinay Lowering Tyler with Blake waiting to help if needed.
Image by Corey.

After safely bring the first climber up I was quickly converted back to a lower for the second climber. The team passed 2 knots (1 for each system), to get me down to the second the climber. I attached him to my system, broke down his anchor and we were quickly back to a raise. This time on the way up the conjoining knots of one of the ropes got stuck. Since I was on the face of a huge dihedral in a semi free hanging position, I could not provide any help. After several attempts to lower and raise, I had the team lower us back down to the slab below the dihedral. We then angled up the slab following the dihedral in hopes of freeing the stuck ropes.

With some luck the ropes were able to free themselves and we were raised back up with another passing of 2 knots without incident. Both climbers were in good spirits despite being cold and tired. After thorough rewarming, we broke down our systems and headed to the summit to be flown out.

Team members at rescue site, ready to climb back to top for pickup.
Image by Blake.

Chad and Manny performed flawlessly in getting the team in and out with the hover step. First James and one of the subjects flew out.

James waits with Subjcet to be picked up.
Image by Kase.
Helicopter coming into top of Tahquiz Rock.
Image by Blake.
Getting in on Hover Step on top of Tahquitz Rock.
Image by Corey.

Here is a video of Tyler and the second subject doing the hover step. Notice how Tyler must back off and wait as the Helicopter moves around in a slight wind. This is all done with head signals because it is too noisy to hear anyone. Finally, he gets the OK to get on. This is what we train for with Aviation, so we are ready to back off and come again until the timing is right to get on the Helicopter. We train twice a year, once during daylight hours and once at night. It is this training that really pays off when we have missions like this one.

Then other team members went in groups of two, one member gets on then second member passes in the two packs, and finally the second member gets on and the TFO tells pilot that it is all clear to take off and head back to base. Everyone was back a base and heading home by 3am in the morning on Sunday December 6.

RMRMU member handing in pack to TFO.
Image by Kase.
RMRU member follows packs in.
Image by Kase.
Everyone on board, TFO tells Pilot to lift off.
Image by Kase.

RMRU Members Involved: Kase Chong, Blake Douglas, James Eckhardt, Corey Ellison, Kaitlyn Ellison, Glenn Henderson, Eric Holden, Tony Hughes, Beth Jeffery, Shani Pynn, Vinay Rao, and Tyler Shumway.