California, Tahquitz Rock

Publication Year: 1971.

California, Tahquitz Roch. Sometime before noon on 9 May, John Guth (19) and Ronald White (20) began an ascent of a route called The Error (5.6) on the north side of Tahquitz Rock. After an initial false start at the base of the rock, they found the proper route and began climbing. Guth led the overhang pitch (5.6) and White then continued upward on fourth class for one full pitch. At this point, the route traverses left, but Guth and White were unfamiliar with the route and called down to the base of the rock to ask instructions. When this failed to resolve their uncertainties, Guth took the next lead directly up a steep jam-crack. At the top of this pitch he established a belay facing sideways on a narrow ledge, anchoring this belay with an angle piton and, perhaps, with a sling looped over a small flake or jammed into a crack. White joined Guth and prepared to lead the next pitch directly upward. As he began to climb, or shortly thereafter, White fell, pulling Guth from his belay position. The two men fell approximately 200 feet, and finally stopped on a small ledge just above the overhang on the first pitch. Guth died during or shortly after the fall; however, White, though injured, remained conscious. While there were a number of young climbers at the base of the rock, the gravity of the situation apparently did not become obvious for some time, probably because White and Guth were partially obscured from view of those below by the overhang and because White’s injuries and related shock were sufficient to prevent effective communications.

Word of an accident on the rock reached Idyll wild about 14:45, but, probably because of incomplete information, no action was taken until after 17:00. In the interim, those at the base of the rock who were aware that a serious fall had occurred did not feel competent to attempt a rescue, and the more experienced climbers, climbing elsewhere on the rock, were unaware that an accident had occurred.

Finally, about 17:20, the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit was called for assistance. The first members of the rescue team reached the base of the rock just as the sun was setting. They found that those gathered at the base of the route were uncertain of the extent of the injuries, save for the observation that one of the climbers had been up and moving about on the ledge while the other had remained still. An abortive attempt to reach the pair had been halted to await the rescue team. Climbing in the dark, the rescuers reached the ledge above the overhang about 20:30. By the time he was reached, White was intermittently incoherent. His injuries consisted of a lacerated scalp and forehead, numerous abrasions, two hairline skull fractures and a compound fracture of the patella. White was given first aid, placed in a sleeping bag in a litter and lowered to the base of the rock in two stages. With the help of a number of climbers gathered at the base of the rock, White was carried to an ambulance waiting at Humber Park, arriving about 01:00 on the tenth. Guth’s body was recovered from the rock prior to sunrise.

Source: Mike Dougherty and Walt Walker, Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit.

Analysis: The exact cause of this accident is not known. White can remember little or nothing of the cause of the fall, although he remembers tripping over the rope as the fall began. Apparently, White had not been able to place any piton protection prior to the fall, as only Guth’s anchor piton was found on the rope. Neither climber was wearing a hard hat, although Guth’s injuries would probably have proved fatal in any event. It is unfortunate that no climbers capable of effecting a rescue were aware of the accident and that the rescue team was not called sooner.