Climbers Stuck on Rock
May 5, 2020
Written by Corey Ellison.
RMRU received a call out for a pair of climbers on Tahquitz at approximately 18:00. The pair were attempting to climb Whodunnit (5.9) when the lead climber ran out of protection between pitch three and four. The leader felt that his last placement (#4 stopper) was inadequate to protect a fall and did not feel down climbing was a viable option. The climbers were linking pitches with a 60-meter rope and did not have enough slack to lower to a more stable position. After realizing their predicament, the pair decided to call 911 and stay put.
The belayer was on a large belay ledge, the leader was on a small shelf protruding about four inches out of the wall. The two remained in their respective positions until RMRU made contact.
Down in the valley RMRU had gathered its members and decided on an operations plan. The team would hike to the top of Tahquitz and send down two members to secure and lower the climbers to the bottom of the route. Riverside Sheriff Aviation Unit Star 9 was available for assistance and transported the ropes and technical gear to the top of the route while the rest of the team came up from Humber Park.
Upon arriving on top of Tahquitz an anchor was quickly constructed using a tensionless hitch around one of the boulders on top. Tyler and I were selected to descend to the climbers. We both decided to utilize our personal racks for the mission as we wanted the familiarity of our own equipment. Once everything was in place, ropes were thrown over the side and I descended over the side at approximately midnight.
About 200 feet down the rappel, I realized that I was on the wrong side of the arete and needed to cross over. I attempted to establish multiple redirects and traverse the arete but the weight of the rope along with multiple snags below me impeded this plan. To free the stuck rope, I ended up descending the rest of the 600 ft of rope, flaking it over my legs as I ascended back up to try and prevent any tangles or snags from occurring.
While I was completing this, Tyler had rapped down about 200 feet and found a good place to create a redirect for the two of us once I reached him. From this redirect, I rapped down to the lead climber and secured him to our mainline. After this I constructed an anchor and transferred both the climber and me onto it, freeing the mainline and allowing Tyler to finish the rappel to the belayer. During this I conducted a brief patient assessment on the leader, who was alert and oriented with stable vitals and in relatively good spirits, although very dehydrated and cold. After finishing a primary assessment, the leader was given a fleece and some electrolyte solution, water, and food.
Down about a hundred or so feet below us, Tyler was completing the same task, and confirming that the belayer was medically stable. At this point, Tyler and I were now working on getting these two to the bottom I used a 60m climbing rope I had in my pack to lower the leader down to Tyler off my constructed anchor. Tyler received the leader and transferred the weight onto his system. Using the climber’s rope as a tag line, I then rapped down to Tyler and all four of us were together for the first time that night.
From the top of pitch two, we originally decided to complete a second multistage lower/rappel to the top of pitch one. I rappelled to the anchor, followed by the belayer, who felt comfortable making the rappel with a fireman’s belay given from below by me. Upon reaching the bolted anchor for pitch one, day had started to break and I could see an easy walk-off that a single-line rap could reach I notified Tyler and he converted my rappel to a biner block so my rope would reach. Once I was down and confirmed the walk-off was doable, the belayer rapped down with another fireman’s belay.
Tyler then lowered the leader down to the walk-off. After the three of us were safely down, Tyler secured a tagline to the rope I came down on to the three of us. Tyler and I and the two subjects were on the ground at approximately 06:00. From there we had about an hour-long hike down to Humber Park where the pair of climbers were returned to their vehicles by the Riverside County Sheriff’s deputy.
Once we notified the team leader on the top of Tahquitz, the rest of the team began cleaning up the gear we had left behind, even collecting our redirect 200 feet down the rock. They then hiked the equipment and themselves down from Tahquitz, having spent a restless night on top providing critical support for the two of us.
RMRU Members Involved: Cameron Dickinson, Blake Douglas, Corey Ellison, Glenn Henderson, Eric Holden, and Tyler Shumway.