Solo Canyoneer Dies in Rappelling Accident in Death Valley

DEATH VALLEY, Calif. – On December 3, a 54-year-old man was found dead after falling while canyoneering alone in Death Valley National Park.

Canyoneering is a sport that involves descending canyons by a combination of hiking, downclimbing, and rappelling. It is typically done as a group activity, due to the inherent risks.

“We recommend that anyone going into the backcountry lets someone know their plans. The park doesn’t track the 1.7 million people that visit each year,” said Abby Wines, park spokesperson and avid canyoneer. “This man was not reported overdue, and the search did not start in time to save his life. A satellite communication device also could have been a lifesaver.”

Several clues led to a search for the man. A campground host reported a campsite with a tent still in it (but no people) after the dates the site was paid for. Rangers left a note on the site. The rangers returned the following day to pack up the abandoned property and found climbing gear and a package with a name and address in the tent.

The rangers recalled having seen a vehicle at Mosaic Canyon Trailhead late in the day when they finished carrying out a person with an injury a couple days earlier. The vehicle was still there, so they ran the plates. It was registered to the person addressed on the package in the tent.

The search and subsequent body recovery were conducted by National Park Service, Inyo County SAR, Inyo County Sheriff’s Office, Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake’s VX-31 rescue helicopter, and California Highway Patrol’s H-82 helicopter. The official cause of death will be determined by Inyo County Coroner’s Office.

Park rangers and SAR team members observed that the man’s rope was not long enough to reach the ground on a long rappel. He tied a piece of webbing to the end of the rope but appears to have made a mistake when disconnecting his rappel device to pass the knot joining the rope and webbing. Rangers estimate he fell about 30 feet.

The man died in the West Fork route in Mosaic Canyon. The first known canyoneering descent of this route was in 2012. There are over 100 known canyoneering routes in the park. This is not a route that is commonly descended.

Death Valley National Park is the homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone and preserves natural resources, cultural resources, exceptional wilderness, scenery, and learning experiences within the nation’s largest conserved desert landscape and some of the most extreme climate and topographic conditions on the planet. Learn more at  

(From Death Valley National Park)

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