Rescue Two Stranded Hikers

March 2, 2021
Massacre Canyon

Written by Rob Newton.

A call went out to Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit around 7:30pm for two hikers stranded in San Jacinto’s Massacre Canyon. Cameron, Coby, Kase, Mike, and Rob rolled out to the scene and began planning for a potentially technical rescue.

Massacre Canyon is a short but treacherous hike made popular by three waterfalls which can be utilized for short repels or fourth class (possibly up to fifth class) climbing. There are two options to reach the upper falls – hike through the riverbed and climb up the first waterfall or take the trail near the top of the canyon, then repel down to the falls.

Knowing the subjects were stuck between the second and third waterfalls, which creates a walled-in room with vertical rock walls on three sides and the drop over the second waterfall on the fourth side, the team decided to take the upper trail on their initial approach to reduce the amount of necessary climbing in the dark. Once they arrived at a washed-out area of the trail, the subject’s shoes were found on a rock where the trail drastically narrows. It was decided the best approach would be to descend the rockslide to see if it was possible to hike out on that route to avoid the washed-out sections of the upper trail. At this point verbal contact was made with the subjects and the team told them to stay put, assuring them help was on the way.

Kase made the initial descent on the rockslide and successfully navigated his way about 100 feet down the slope to the riverbed below. Kase continued up the trail to the subjects, who at this point were roughly one quarter mile from the washout, while the rest of the team made their way down the slope one at a time due to the amount of falling debris the descent was causing. Mike went next, followed by Rob and Cam. Once all three reached the riverbed, Kase confirmed via radio he was with the subjects and they were ok.

When the rest of the team reached the base of the second waterfall, Kase gave instructions on the route he took to climb up and around the third waterfall to then repel in on an existing fixed rope. After some initial confusion on his first attempt, Rob was able to navigate the wall west of the waterfall on his second try, followed by Cam, and they descended to the top of the third waterfall together. This left Mike at the base of the second waterfall to assist from below with the lowering of the subjects. Rob and Cam handlined down to Kase and the subjects and began planning to lower them down the second waterfall.

While waiting for the rest of the team, Kase created an anchor with a length of webbing and an existing piton in the rock wall. We decided our best course of action was to belay our subjects down to Mike via a top rope set up and a few minutes later, we were in position to lower our subjects. Rob belayed on the ATC directly below the anchor and Cam acted as edge attendant. Kase split the distance between Rob and Cam to backup belay and relay communications over the noise of the waterfall. Our first subject was lowered without incident and after pulling the helmet and harness back up, the second subject was lowered safely as well. Rob, Cam and Kase then repelled themselves down using the ATC.

After an easy hike back to the washout, Rob and Kase climbed back to the trail traversing the top of the canyon with a call out rope. The plan was to find a suitable anchor and belay position to assist our subjects on their final ascent. After finding a horn to wrap webbing around, we used an overhand on a bight to build a Munter hitch to pull up our first subject. Rob then lowered Kase to put him in a better position to accurately throw the rope to our second subject. Once he was up and safely positioned on the trail, Kase lowered Rob for one final rope toss to Mike and Cam below. They handlined their way up and the team and subjects had an uneventful hike back to base, completing the mission successfully.

Our subjects had gone on their hike late in the day with no food, no water, and no light source. This is an important reminder to always carry appropriate gear and supplies, no matter how short of a hike you anticipate.

RMRU Members Involved: Coby Brown, Kase Chong, Cameron Dickinson, Michael George, and Rob Newton.