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Two climbers are dead after what appears to be a rappel-related accident at Tahquitz Rock. The Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department responded around noon yesterday to a report of injured climbers, and, after an arduous approach, arrived to find a man and a woman both dead from injuries at the base of the crag.
According to a longtime Idyllwild local who spoke with two persons involved in the recovery, one climber was attached to a rope with an ATC. The second climber had a rappel device clipped to their harness, but was not clipped to the rope. Both ends of the rope were knotted. A refrigerator-sized block may have fallen with the climbers—Tahquitz is known to have an abundance of loose rock. A brief but heavy rain with hail was reported in the area around the time of the accident. Names of the deceased have not been released.
Tahquitz and nearby Suicide Rocks are imposing granite cliffs on the hillsides above the artsy resort town of Idyllwild, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles in the San Bernardino Mountains. Tahquitz is the higher peak at about 8,000 feet, with routes up to 800 feet and a steep 45-minute approach. One of the first technical climbing areas developed in North America, it offers classic routes up to seven pitches on cracks, friction slabs and flakes. Art Johnson and Bob Brinton originally climbed the 500-foot Trough (5.3) in 1936, and the decimal rating system was developed here for a 1956 guide book.
Tahquitz is a traditional crag and a serious one. Established routes tend to be clean, but the crag is subject to periodic rockfall. Rock quality deteriorates on the mid to upper pitches of the wall, and belays can be elusive. Many a leader has passed a decent stance only to come to the end of the rope in the middle of nothing.
“It’s nebulous ground, up there, criss-crossing ramps,” says John Long, who put up Le Toit (5.12a) there. “These are nothing like Yosemite routes, it’s not a nut-friendly crag. The cracks don’t tend to be deep, and other than that you get flakes and blocks, although you need to wonder about the blocks.”
In 2002 Tahquitz was the scene of another double fatality when Dave Kellogg and Kelly Tufo, ages 32 and 41, fell from a multipitch route there, victims of what was likely a belay-anchor failure. Read the full feature by Alison Osius here.