FALL ON ROCK, EXPOSURE, DARKNESS Nevada, Red Rocks Canyon, Epinephrine
On October 30, climbers Joel Geerling (24) and Chris Pannucci (25) left the Black Velvet Canyon parking lot at 0530, arriving at the base of 18-pitch Epinephrine (5.9) by 0630. The pair had previously climbed Crimson Chrysalis (9-pitch, 5.8+) and Dream of Wild Turkeys (7-pitch, 5.10-) at Red Rocks in March of 2003. They planned a one-day ascent of Epinephrine and did not bring a second rope or bivy gear outside of two emergency space blankets. After struggling through the lower chimney sections they began linking pitches and arrived at the bolt anchor of pitch 17 with 60 minutes of daylight left. Geerling pulled a small bulge above the anchors to a ledge, placed a tri-cam, and began traversing into the final dihedral. During the traverse, a handhold pulled from the sandstone and he barn-doored into the opposite wall. He fell ten feet and sustained blunt trauma to his right knee. A local guide on the route immediately below the pair passed Pannucci and provided first aid to Geerling’s knee; he and his climber planned to wait for the pair at the summit. Pannucci led pitch 18 and brought Geerling to his stance as darkness fell. Given Geerling’s injury, the two decided to remain roped for the 700 feet of fourth-class terrain to the summit. Pannucci led 200 feet and built an anchor. As he ascended, Geerling (a 5.12 climber) fell once on the fourth class terrain and arrived at the belay ledge shivering, disoriented and in severe pain, his leg nearly locked in the straightened position as it swelled. The pair considered bivying and completing the climb in the morning but Pannucci was unsure of Geerling’s ability to make the extensive descent from Whiskey Peak. From the summit, the guide used his cellular phone to activate the Las Vegas Search and Rescue and rappelled to the pair’s ledge until their location was identified by helicopter. Geerling was man- winched to the summit and evacuated by helicopter to a waiting ambulance. He was treated at the UMC Trauma Center for hypothermia (93 F), evaluated for a fractured patella, and received stitches for his knee laceration.
Loose rock is common even on often-climbed routes in this area. Rain two days prior to the incident may have contributed to the hold breaking.
In the interest of speed, the pair had brought minimal gear and were unprepared for anything but an emergency bivy. They also did not have a second rope, so an up-and-over ascent was their only option.
On the fourth class terrain, Geerling exhibited classic signs of hypothermia (loss of coordination, disorientation, mental slowing), likely brought on by the combined effect of injury, exposure, and exhaustion. The pair’s position on a ledge several hundred feet below the summit slowed Geerling’s rescue as a search and rescue team had to be airlifted to the summit to create a man-winch. (Source: Chris Pannucci and Joel Geerling, the climbers.)