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 mountainproject.com.
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 mountainproject.com. “He will be missed dearly.”