Tahquitz rescue 5-17-2013

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GDavis

Social climber
SOL CAL
Topic Author's Original Post - May 18, 2013 - 10:55am PT
Yesterday my good friend and climbing partner Lucas Dunn passed away on the west face of Tahquitz. I'm going to try to rely the information as I best remember as best I can. There will be plenty of time for commentary of the events but for now I want to provide the community with at least some answers why our son is gone.


I had been living in Idyllwild for the past few weeks and thursday (5-16) was Lucas' last day of school. For those that didn't know him, he was 21 years old, 6 feet tall, bright, and one HELL of a climber. He had led Valhalla at 17 (before he had even led 5.10) and on Friday (5-17) it was going to be his turn to follow me on the Vampire - usually the roles are reversed and I play second fiddle. When we climb we are equal partners, but he is the pro and I am the plebian.

We drove together to Humber park and arrived around 8:30. I only checked my cell phone once, at lunch rock, at 9am. We stretched out for 10-15 minutes. He had a friends graduation to attend that afternoon, which dictated an early start, and we made comments back and forth about the wind and the cold. A typical thing happens in the mornings up there where the wind rakes across the buttresses and exposed slabs as the sun comes across strawberry valley and warms the west face of San Jacinto (or something). I racked up with my gear, he threw his rope on his back, and we began scrambling to the trough. At the base of the first pitch of the Trough I decided to ditch my big clunky hiking shoes - on the extremely odd event I pulled off all 3 crux pitches, I could live with walking down the friction descent barefoot.

We soloed the first pitch of the trough (5.0, which we had done dozens of times - Lucas never considered soloing easy routes a good idea, though I typically would solo a pair of easier climbs after work) then reached the start of the From Bad Traverse ledge system. To fill in those unfamiliar, the West Face Bulge is a wonderful shield of the best granite in the world, starting 1/3 the way up Tahquitz above a gulley. A ledge system, with interspersed moves up to 5.6, cuts its way across it.

As we moved from the trough to the FBT (from bad traverse), I distinctly remember thinking how loose and dangerous some of the necessary movements you make are. Two days before I was on Super Pooper with another friend, which starts even further on the ledge system, and didn't think twice. for some reason... it felt 'weird.'

A few exposed moves up loose rock get us to the base of the direct start to the Vampire. Lucas anchored to the tree (something I never bother to do, but shows a bit the distinction again in our perception of safety) and before I could psyche myself out I started up the Bat crack. Despite a massive split on my great toe, a slight cold, and it being my 7th day on climbing, I managed to hang my way up the pitch. I built the belay with a single sling 'sliding x' to which I anchored myself and my belay device. This was an anchor Lucas was used to using, but I always had some skepticism on. I called down "Hey is it cool if we anchor off a single sling?" "sure."

Lucas followed my lead - and hiked it. He hadn't climbed since our bishop bouldering trip in early april due to school, where as I had been bumming around climbing 5 days a week. While at the belay, despite wearing a red wool shirt, blue/green polartec hoody and wind jacket I was being blasted by cold wind. We had a silly moment trying to get him past the mantle that gains the belay ledge, because the holds you mantle I was standing on. He crawled between my hobbit legs and clipped in and we had a good chuckle. He congratulated me on the lead, though I had to take on a piece and had followed him on that pitch three times already - it was hardly an impressive achievement, but he was a good friend.

Just as I recommended it was too cold to bother continuing he agreed, saying 'yeah I'm not so pscyhed.' I mentioned something like doing human fright and toproping fright night, a great comfort zone for us and a lazy cragging day we had done a dozen times before.

It wasn't our first time rapping off the Vampire - we got stormed off twice and shut down on pitch 3 once. I rigged the rope through the rap rings, to the middle marker, didn't tie ends (because until yesterday I hardly ever bother) and looked down to see it just barely make the start of the technical climbing, above the low 5th class slab you solo to reach the flake system. As I rapped, I saw a tree to the right (that did not look solid) and the rap anchors for the original start around the corner tha makes the bat crack. I tried two times to pendulum to those anchors, and the second time didn't time my kick right and pendulumed into the corner at a good clip. I was fine, I'm built like a brick, but realized it was a VERY poor decision to try again when I might hurt myself (we were both wearing helmets).

I reached the top of the easy slab, with about 6 inches of slack left. I'm 5.8 on a good day, so figured lucas would have an extra few inches of play. I tied tiny overhands near the end of the rope so he could grab the giant, solid flake that starts the technical climbing while unclipping. Off to the right was a not-so-solid looking block, that one could stand on to get an extra few inches, but it was not ideal looking (the size of a mini-fridge). The flake right in front of me was a 1" to 1 1/2" crack, and all t hose peices were with Lucas. The largest peice I had was a .4 C4. I called up to Lucas (who could both see and hear me) "hey be careful, this rap isn't exactly AMGA approved." At this point climbers below had soloed the trough and were just starting FBT to head over to Super pooper. I unclipped my rap device, and downclimbed off to climbers left to meet the party along the FBT ledge system. The climbers, Darrel and Mike, asked about the start of the route. I recommended to rope up right then and there, because there was (in my memory) a 5.7ish slab move that is mandatory, so if you'd rope up for that might as well rope up right now while you have tree anchors. During our conversation I heard a crash, and turned to see Lucas coming down the slab with a few giant rocks, possibly the loose one I noted, and the rope. Once he passed the slab and rolled off the FBT ledge system, I knew he was unconscious.

We didn't see where he landed. Darrel fixed his lead line and handed it to me coiled, warning me not to throw the rope or I'd loose more debris, and Mike used his cell to call the Sheriff's (mine was in my pack but reception had always been spotty at best). despite the coil I managed to get the rope hung up several times, but arrived at Lucas about 2 minutes later, ~175 feet down from the ledge system I was standing on (which was halfway between the top of the slab and the FBT).

As I reached him he was unresponsive but breathing, upside-down with his helmet intact. I have no medical training whatsoever, but knew he was in very bad shape. Darrel joined me, and at this point his breathing had stopped. Darrel earlier had advised not to move him, however to get his airway open we pulled him out of a shallow gulley onto a ledge with a large tree on it (the only one on the gulley system). On the ledge his breathing resumed, and Darrel started giving me instructions - pack clothes around him, keep talking to him, etc. Darrel took Lucas' lead line, which had fallen with him, and fixed part of it to the tree, at about the 3/4 mark. the remaining 1/4 was wrapped around Lucas legs, which I was supporting with my body as the ledge he was on was just large enough for a torso.

While propping his legs up I noticed the rap device clipped into a single end of the rope, I can't recall if the knot was intact or not. His breathing slowed more, until it stopped altogether, which is when
Darrel started administering CPR, which continued for the better part of 10 minutes. I am not including the conversations between darrel and mike about the ETA or logistics as I had kinda tuned that out. I was just trying to put as much positive energy into him as possible, yelling, screaming at him to fight HARD. Darrell was trained very well, and never really said what he probably thought right away - that this kid wouldn't make it. about 5-10 minutes (who knows) after he had halted CPR, we heard a helicopter. They had looked around the peak for us for about 5 minutes before finding us, Darrell rushed to Lucas and started up again, but the hazardous wind made it unsafe for a lower out/short haul (or whatever it's called, again I am ignorant in these situations). Darrel, knowing it was over, walked off to the side where the sun had started to peek over the megalith and give some warmth. I had used my jackets to keep Lucas warm, and my red shirt to notify the chopper, and was probably in shock as well. I put my wind shell on, brushed his cheek, kissed him and wept.


Some time later, minutes hours who knows, a rescue personell was lowered from the chopper and scrambled the third class gulley to our location. His pace and demeanor told me everything - this was a recovery. I hung around while a few more personell joined, then downclimbed/rappelled to the base. A friend from San Diego, Bob Hutchinson, was there with his partner Lori. Up to this moment I was trying to do the right thing, whether to save my friend or allow a safe recovery or play the mental gymnastics that allow you to see your friend die in your arms. As I sat at the base, in the sun, with the helmet off, she came up to me and held me and I allowed my humanity to take over. It hurt so much, it still hurts, and for weeks, years, decades I will be reliving these events. Even now when I think of my friend I don't think of him the way I found him, but the way he was, a wonderful, bright, funny, incredible person. There just isn't anyone else like that.

Please, do not hesistate to ask any questions. His legacy and his passion will live through me, and I want to give the deepest respect to how he lived his life and how it came to a sudden and tragic end. He loved his home crag, he loved that route - we were going to climb it every week until we left to climb the Salathe early June. It could have happened to him, or anyone, and had I not scrambled off to the right to visit with the other climbers it is very likely Darrell would be writing this, but I'm glad at least to some extent it was Me who was with him. If I passed in the mountains, I'd want it to be in his arms.

I've heard a hundred times that 'these things happen.' He was an amazing climber, and a safer one than I was. He had gear to plug in and anchor himself to before whatever happened, happened. Maybe he didn't have time. There is too much speculation that will last into the wee hours of the night in the darkest corners of my mind, but that is not what we need to do. We need to hug those close to us and always tell them how much we love them, because you never know when that last one is.

Greg




GDavis

Social climber
SOL CAL
Topic Author's Reply - May 18, 2013 - 11:05am PT


This is the only photo I have of the gulley below the FBT, taken January of this year. Lucas stopped just below the tree (slighty to the right of the climbers first piece of protection) and I had rappelled from the tree above and to the left of that, which is on the FBT ledge system. The climb and the slab are obscured by the branches.
Anxious Melancholy

Mountain climber
Between the Depths of Despair & Heights of Folly
May 18, 2013 - 11:12am PT
Condolences, such a tragedy...words cannot convey how much my heart goes out to family and friends....
Timid TopRope

Social climber
'used to be Paradise, CA
May 18, 2013 - 11:12am PT
Greg
That is so sad to have your friend die in your arms. You honor his life with this account. Sounds like his flame burned brightly.

My heartfelt condolences to you, his family and friends.

Take care as best you can,

Andy T
Rick A

climber
Boulder, Colorado
May 18, 2013 - 11:13am PT
Greg,
Crying as I type this.
So sorry.
Rick Accomazzo

rincon

Trad climber
SoCal
May 18, 2013 - 11:22am PT
Greg, so sorry about your friend.

Thanks for sharing your account of what happened.
x15x15

climber
May 18, 2013 - 11:28am PT
Oh No! Not Lucas.

I am so sorry greg. I think I ran into you at s ridge a week or two ago. We talked about Lucas, future plans... etc...

My thoughts are with you, family, all at Nomads... many in idyllwild will miss him too. A great Kid with a great attitude.

I remember Lucas' first post on Supertopo. His avatar was thekid... and it was confusing for some, but for me, he was the kid...

RIP my friend, you were a rising star.

philip
Leggs

Sport climber
Is this a trick question?
May 18, 2013 - 11:37am PT
Oh my goodness...

eyes blurry ....

heartfelt condolences ... to you Greg and to Lucas' family and friends...
oh my goodness....





Please be safe everyone... and appreciate this precious life.

Grippa

Trad climber
Salt Lake City, UT
May 18, 2013 - 11:39am PT
Heartbreaking. RIP Lucas, and may you find solace in your family and friends Greg.
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Oceanside
May 18, 2013 - 11:44am PT
So sorry for your loss. It is also a loss to the community, your friend sounds like a stand up guy. Tears in my eyes reading this, too close to home. Thank you for sharing, very powerful writing, I know it must be tough to talk about it so soon.

If his family needs anything let us know.
apogee

climber
Technically expert, safe belayer, can lead if easy
May 18, 2013 - 11:51am PT
Thank you for this brave account. Your genuine honesty makes this all too real for all of us.

No words of consolation are going to erase the pain of that event, but know that we are all thinking about you, care about you, and wish you the best as you start the processing of an event like this. We're here for you, Greg.
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
May 18, 2013 - 11:57am PT
Heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of this fine young man.

GDavis you have tons of healing to go.
I would venture to let things be as far as specific questions from others at this time. Unless you somehow feel you need to .
Let some time pass.

My heart goes out to you.


HF

climber
I'm a Norwegian stuck in Joshua Tree
May 18, 2013 - 11:58am PT
Thank you for sharing this Greg, and for your care and efforts to help Lucas.
Thank you also to the others that tried their best to save him.

Sounds like only Lucas knows what happened, and sadly he will not be able to answer our questions.

We are all lucky to have known him. I still can't believe that we'll never see that smiling face or hear his voice again.

Hilde
Skeptimistic

Mountain climber
La Mancha
May 18, 2013 - 12:01pm PT
Brutal.

Deepest sympathies to you and all that shared his world. Your account of the events was brave, unblinking and hopefully cathartic. You did us all a huge favor in the telling so that we remember to stay safe; life changes in the blink of an eye.

Don't second guess the events. It happened, it sucks, you did all that you possibly could.
I shudder to think of being in the same circumstances. I would hope that if I were, I would have someone there who cared and shared as much of life as you both did.

He will always be a part of who you are, your heart, your spirit.
Kalimon

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
May 18, 2013 - 12:06pm PT
It wasn't our first time rapping off the Vampire - we got stormed off twice and shut down on pitch 3 once. I rigged the rope through the rap rings, to the middle marker, didn't tie ends (because until yesterday I hardly ever bother) and looked down to see it just barely make the start of the technical climbing, above the low 5th class slab you solo to reach the flake system. As I rapped, I saw a tree to the right (that did not look solid) and the rap anchors for the original start around the corner tha makes the bat crack. I tried two times to pendulum to those anchors, and the second time didn't time my kick right and pendulumed into the corner at a good clip. I was fine, I'm built like a brick, but realized it was a VERY poor decision to try again when I might hurt myself (we were both wearing helmets).

Where did your rappel end on prior descents? It sounds like there was some serious uncertainty this particular time.

Very sorry for the loss of this young person.
Fletcher

Trad climber
The great state of advaita
May 18, 2013 - 12:09pm PT
Oh man, I am so sorry.

Eric
nita

Social climber
chica de chico, I don't claim to be a daisy.
May 18, 2013 - 12:09pm PT
Oh Greg, I'm am so sorry...Thinking about you this morning and sending you a heartfelt hug.

Sending sincere condolences out to.. you, Lucas' friends, co-workers, and Family...

Take care ...

Saludos.
nita.

edit: Miss Lynne, sending you my condolences~ too.
Largo

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
May 18, 2013 - 12:12pm PT
This could have happened to all of us many times while we did various shenanigans on the often rambling rock at Tahquitz. Very sorry it happened to you and Lucas.

JL
GDavis

Social climber
SOL CAL
Topic Author's Reply - May 18, 2013 - 12:13pm PT
Where did your rappel end on prior descents? It sounds like there was some serious uncertainty this particular time.

We'd rapped off pitch 2 to the original start once or twice and another time rapped to the ledge from the top of the bat crack. We'd discussed the night before using that first pitch as a warm-up for other routes, or in a big day of single-pitch west face cragging. The high sierra, josh, idyllwild, we'd rapped to bad stances 100 times. A bad habit to be sure, one which is going out and will be replaced with self rescue, CPR and some more knowledge. I was lucky to have darrel there to rely information to me, otherwise I'd be on that ledge with lucas, without a cell, waiting for him to pass wondering if I could have saved him. I don't want that to ever happen again.
adikted

Boulder climber
Tahooooeeeee
May 18, 2013 - 12:14pm PT
Our community lost another shinning star....my condolances!!
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