Rescue People on Skyline

January 29, 2022
Grubbs Notch

Written by: Blake Douglas


Saturday, January 29 was a cloudy, cool day in Joshua Tree National Park and RMRU was conducting training scenarios at Cap Rock in preparation for our upcoming recertification with the Mountain Rescue Association. Since we had several new members recently join the team, and these trainings cover some of our most important team-based skills, we had a substantial turnout of approximately twenty members. There also seems to be an unwritten rule that says callouts are certain as soon as a substantial amount of the team is out of the county.

While setting up our afternoon scenario, call captain Ray Weden began receiving messages indicating that a rescue was underway at the Palm Springs Tram, and Sheriff’s Aviation was responding. Details were sparse, and without more information or a specific request to respond, we had no reason to abandon the training, so we proceeded as normal. After about an hour it was confirmed that aviation was unable to hoist the subject due to high winds, and we were being asked to respond to the Tramway. We quickly broke down our rope systems and prepared to shift the entire team to the tram. Updated information indicated the subject was on Skyline, near to the location of multiple other recent rescues, and potentially with a mobility injury, such as a broken leg or hip, this could be one of the most technically demanding of rescues, but fortunately the exact kind of thing we had just been training for.

Team 1 would consist of experienced members with snow, technical and medical experience who could reach the subject quickly, safely, and make a rapid evaluation of whether a haul system would be needed. This was James, Tyler, Rob, and Donny. Team 2 consisted of experienced members that would be expected to run the rope systems or rotate direct care with Team 1. This included myself, Josh, Tom, and Vinay. Team 3 consisted of Zane, Matt, Steve, and Beth to support as needed. Additional team members responded directly to base, including Eric, Coby, Becky, Michael, Shani, and Ray. This was one of the largest turnouts of RMRU in the field since I joined the team. Every one of these people would have been necessary and essential if the subject had required a haul.

Once in the field, the mission was largely and thankfully uneventful. I staged Teams 2 and 3 at Grubb’s Notch, we established clear radio communications with base and Team 1 and waited for an update. In the meantime, we reviewed our haul systems and anchor-building techniques, since we would need every member to be capable of as many different tasks and safety checks as possible on a steep, heavily snowed slope at night. Team 1 soon radioed back that the subject was mobile and uninjured, and they would hike him out. This only took an hour or two, and we were all back in the tram headed down, thankful for a simple and safe resolution to what could have been a complicated rescue.


As with many other rescues on Skyline, the immediate cause of the subject’s distress was a lack of appropriate snow traction. Shortly after this rescue and several others, the upper section of Skyline, which falls within the authority of California State Parks, was closed by that agency to any hiker traffic.


RMRU Members Involved:
Zane Anglin, Coby Brown, Blake Douglas, James Echkardt, Matt Frenken, Mike George, Donny Goetz, Josh Gould, Eric Holden, Beth Jeffery, Shani McCullough, Rob Newton, Vinay Rao, Steve Rider, Tyler Shumway, Becky Templeton, and Ray Weden