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Stranded, Exceeding Abilities, Inadequate Clothing, Darkness, Weather, Nevada, Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area, White Rock Springs


Nevada, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, White Rock Springs

Late on the morning of December 21, T. W. (13) andJ P. (18) began climbing Tunnel Vision (III, 5.7) on the Angel Food Wall. Darkness found them at the bottom of the fifth pitch in the mouth of the “tunnel.”

T. W.’s parents became concerned when he did not return home and called BLM Rangers about 1800. They found J. P.’s car in the White Rock Spring parking area. Ranger Chuck Ward advised LVMPD SAR Coordinator Sgt. Basset. A LVMPD SAR officer and volunteer met J. P.’s father and BLM Rangers at the victim’s car with the intention of walking half a mile to the base of the route and checking the walk-off for the victims. J. P.’s father advised that the climbers were wearing light fleece tops with no shell gear, had no lights or helmets. Air temperature was in the thirties, winds were 10-20 mph and it was snowing.

At 2030, during a lull in the wind, rescuers called out for the victims over a vehicle PA. Much to their surprise, the victims called back, shouting their location, that they were OK, and did not need to be rescued “unless it gets colder or wet.” It began snowing harder, winds increased and voice contact was no longer possible. Sgt. Basset arrived on scene, and after discussing the options, it was decided to page out the team’s Volunteers, discuss insertion options with the LVMPD rescue pilots and get a weather forecast from the FAA. By 2100 14 Volunteers had arrived as had another LVMPD SAR Officer who had brought the helicopter fuel trailer. Because of the victim’s ages, their lack of preparation and worsening weather, a rescue was begun.

Winds were gusting to 40 mph with light snow eliminating the possibility of a helicopter insertion that night. The forecast was for increased winds with gusts to 60 mph until 0400 when winds would decrease to 30-40 mph with temperatures in the upper 30s the next day. It was decided to send a team up the walk-off to raise the victims after first light. A team of ten Volunteers and one Officer left the parking lot at 2300 with clearing skies, cold temperatures and high winds. Snow on the ground made finding the trail to the base impossible, so the team hiked cross country to the base of the walk off. The walk-off is a steep boulder and brush choked gully. The team, with technical rescue gear, negotiated 600 feet of fourth and fifth class terrain, arriving on a ledge system near the top of Tunnel Vision about 0520. The sky had cleared and winds were still blowing at 40 mph across the cliffs.

At sunrise winds diminished unexpectedly. The team moved above the route and with the use of a spotting scope from the trailhead were guided onto a rock outcrop above the tunnel’s exit. Anchors and lowering systems were established and a SAR Volunteer was lowered 300 feet through the tunnel’s exit. On reaching the victims, he found that they were cold but uninjured. A hauling was established, and the team began raising the Volunteer and J. P. at 0950. Radio contact was intermittent and the belay line became snagged on the featured rock face above the tunnel. A second Volunteer rappelled to the snagged belay line, freed it at 1105 and the raise continued. The small working area and chicken-heads on the outcrop made the raise slow and strenuous for the haul team. At 1145, J. P and rescuer were recovered at the haul ledge.

LVMPD Air 3, an MD530F, had flown a reconnaissance of the route and found that T. W., still in the mouth of the tunnel, could be reached by hoist. LVMPD Air 5, an HH-1H, responded, and at 1215 a SAR Volunteer was lowered by hoist in gusty conditions to the mouth of the tunnel. T. W. and rescuer were recovered at 1222, and Air 5 returned to the CP. The rescue systems were broken down and the team moved to a small LZ where they were extracted by Air 3 via one skid hover. The rescue was terminated at 1400.


J. P and T. W. are accomplished gym climbers, with apparently little outdoor experience. While Tunnel Vision can be done in five pitches, it is a long route to undertake on the shortest day of the year. Combined with a late start and inadequate clothing, they underestimated the route and conditions. They spent a cold night in the shelter of the tunnel and by morning, both had no feeling below their knees. Had they been stranded anywhere else on the route, both would likely have died. (Source: James Roberts, Volunteer - Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department SAR)