Arizona Climber Found Dead from Bee Stings

5/9/13 - On April 6, a group of climbers found a man hanging in climbing gear from a cliff on Mt. Hopkins in Santa Rita Mountains, south of Tucson, Arizona. Steven Johnson was covered in hundreds of bee stings, which the chief medical examiner of Pima County determined caused his death (mass envenomation). Johnson’s dog was also found dead and covered in bee stings atop the ridge from which the man was rappelling.

The 55 year-old Tucson local was a prolific member of the southern Arizona climbing community and had established many routes on Mt. Lemmon, in the Cochise Stronghold, and was in the process of developing one in the Santa Ritas when he died, according to Scott McNamara on

Johnson was last seen on Friday hiking in the Santa Ritas and was reported missing to the Tucson Police when he didn’t show up to work on Monday. Four climbers went to the area that Johnson had planned to be in on Sunday developing routes, and they found and recovered his and his dog’s bodies.

It is unknown how exactly Johnson came to suffer so many bee stings; however, the New York Daily News reports that according to police, Johnson may have disturbed the bees while hammering into the cliff. Eric Rhicard, one of the climbers who recovered Johnson’s body, told the Arizona Daily Star that Johnson’s rope hung only a few feet from the beehive and could also have disturbed it.

“Steve was a true climbing mentor to myself and many others in the Tucson community,” Tucson local Kirk Hutchinson wrote on “He will be missed dearly.”



Previous Comments

The very first climber that put me on lead at the Lemmon, and then at Cochise. I love Steve's ethics. He was a pioneer. He's basically the one who taught me to go for it, rather than down climb and sit on the rope. You are loved Steve, sure you're climbing something, somewhere....

Jim - 10/20/2013 1:56:53

The behavior of the bees suggests they are African(ized). How common is it to encounter bees when climbing? JP

Jeff - 05/14/2013 9:48:49

It's always very sad when somebody dies and more so when they are so appreciated as seems the case. The death of his dog is a testament of loyalty of a great companion. But with so many climbing areas why climb or bolt a route so close to beehive?! This is human error the bees are just following there instinct against a perceived a threat. We should remember and respect the fact we share these areas with other living organisms,

Chris - 05/13/2013 2:56:33

Steve was a great guy and I am proud to have shared a rope with him. He was a tireless developer who gave so much to the climbing community. I was at the vigil on Thursday and there was sadness and at the same time a high level of energy emanating from the room. Steve will be greatly missed. Many thanks to the four climbers who did everything they could to help when they found out he was missing. They have gone through an ordeal and risk that none of us will fully understand. My condolences to his sons who I've climbed with and the rest of the Johnson family.

Tony Horness - 05/12/2013 4:16:53

Very sad and horrible news. Steve's dog refused to leave his master when in such great peril, even at the expense of it's own life? Seriously folks, what a great friend Steve had there with him at his end. John

John - 05/12/2013 1:00:37

I just saw this comment looking at Mr. Johnson's Mt. Project comments. He said: "The name Beeware 5.10+ at the Mustang near Elgin is a very appropriate name. Just above the third bolt on this sport route there is a live and very aggressive beehive. The three dog bone quickdraws with wire gates on the first three bolt hangers are mine which were left due to a very,very hasty retreat this afternoon. Twelve or more bee stings and forty-minutes later with a few more attacks we were able to get the equipment that was on the ground gathered up and put in our packs. Though, we re-pissed the bees off when we pulled the rope attacking me for a few hundred yards as I moved down the trial. Okay, I was running down the trail and dragging the length of the rope behind me. If any one retrieves the draws before we get back there later this week, please put them in the cave at the bottom of the route. Beeware!!! they are extremely aggressive. THANKS" be careful out there.

Andrew - 05/11/2013 12:21:39

Condolences to the whole community and his family and friends. I know Steve was a key part of the climbing clan there. So sorry to hear about this crazy incident. Anyone familiar with the accident that can confirm if it was bees or wasps? Pretty unusual behavior for bees, but not so for wasps. Just curious.

DG - 05/11/2013 7:27:38

You are completely right Ben. Sorry for the strong words. This story hits very close to home for me. My condolences to Steve's family!

Thaddeus - 05/11/2013 6:54:21

How about some tact and empathy.

Ben - 05/11/2013 3:41:57

Fuck bees!! There going down at the hide out!

Thaddeus Barringer - 05/10/2013 11:04:24

This has been a tremendous blow to our community. A vigil was held last night in which dozens of Steven's friends and relatives showed up to remember Steve and comfort one another. He was loved by so many of us here. We will miss him dearly.

Daryl Allan - 05/10/2013 3:57:39

Such a tragedy.

Sue Bonilla - 05/10/2013 3:49:46

Wow, great journalism! Cutting and pasting from an online forum and the New York Daily News? You couldn't have broken off a phone call to Southern Arizona and gotten the story?

Durt Nasty - 05/10/2013 3:38:54