American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded—Exceeding Abilities, Inadequate Clothing, Nevada, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Juniper Canyon

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999

STRANDED-EXCEEDING ABILITIES, INADEQUATE CLOTHING

Nevada, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Juniper Canyon

On April 12, S. L., A. M., G. W. and C. J., all visiting from Canada, set off to climb Black Dagger (III, 5.7) in Juniper Canyon. The party had come to Red Rock intending to climb this route. Darkness found them stuck on a ledge, possibly off route, with temperatures near freezing and winds gusting to 40 mph. At 2130, S.L. called 911 by cellular phone. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s SAR coordinator Sgt. Clint Bassett, was notified. S.L. explained that the party was about one pitch from the top of the route, but wearing only shorts and T-shirts, and that they felt they would be unable to “make the night.”

Officers and Volunteers of Metro’s Search and Rescue unit met and staged at Pine Creek and LVMPD’s Air 3, an MD 53 OF, entered Juniper Canyon to assess the scene. The crew of Air 3 located the party, but determined that inserting rescuers above the climbers would not be possible because of dangerous turbulence and high winds.

An overland approach from Lovell Canyon to the west of the Red Rock escarpment was decided upon, and at 0230 one officer and nine LVMPD SAR volunteers left from the Bridge Mount. Trailhead. After several hours of hiking over rough terrain, the team came within a mile of the top of Juniper Canyon. It was determined that significant technical operations would be needed to access the top of the cliff and would be unsafe due to darkness, high winds, cold and rescuer fatigue. At about 0600, this team turned back.

At 0700, Air 3 reentered the canyon and again found winds and turbulence too severe to safely insert a team from above. A second LVMPD team of one officer and four volunteers began briefing to access the climber’s via the walk off for Black Dagger. This team departed at 0830.

At the same time the 66th Air Rescue Squadron from Nellis Air Force Base was contacted about using their aircraft to effect the rescue. At 0920, an MH- 60 Pave Hawk, call sign 007, arrived and at 0930 was able to locate the climbers with direction from Air 3. At 0945, two PJ’s were lowered to the victims who had finished the remaining 300 feet of slabs to the top the Black Dagger. At 1045, after 007 returned from burning off excess fuel, the climbers were hoisted out in pairs and returned to the Pine Creek CP. The two LVMPD teams returned to the CP.

The four climbers were all still shivering, but were uninjured. None were in T-shirts as had been claimed, only one was in shorts, and all had some outer wear.

Analysis

S.L. stated that they had talked to other climbers and BLM rangers regarding the route, and had called the Weather Service and received a forecast of light winds. Despite this, S.L. felt they had underestimated the approach and the route, and were several hours behind their established schedule when darkness fell. Three of the party had more that three years of climbing experience, one had only one year, and S.L. felt that the last climber’s inexperience had slowed them down.

Balmy spring days typically turn into very cold nights at Red Rock. Many routes in the canyons require two hours for the approach, and just as much time for the descent. Climbing these routes can be an all day affair, and when darkness falls, route finding is difficult and steep brushy walk off’s can be deadly. This party did well to stop and huddle together to keep warm rather than continue in darkness and risk injury or separation. Having a cellular phone to call for help was also prudent. This also demonstrates that the ability to call 911 is no guarantee of a timely rescue or surviving the night exposed to freezing temperatures. Another consideration is that the rescue was carried out based on the claim that the party was under clothed and unlikely to “make the night.” It is never appropriate to embellish your situation’s severity to avoid an uncomfortable night in the cold. For all intents and purposes, this party was able to self rescue from the route, and likely could have done the walk off in daylight unaided—without, thereby, unfairly jeopardizing the lives of the 30 rescuers who responded to their call. (Source: James Roberts, Volunteer, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department SAR)

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