On Sunday (December 4), a climber eagerly set out for El Cajon Mountain, a popular destination for California outdoorsmen in search of a challenge. A massive block of granite towering above the town of El Cajon, the mountain features more than 200 different climbing routes as well as one of the most challenging hikes in San Diego County.
Sadly, what began as a day of adventure would end in tragedy. At around noon on Sunday, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department was alerted to an accident on El Cajon Mountain. The ambitious climber had suffered an accident somewhere along the ascent and fallen. To make matters worse, they knew that it wouldn’t be a rescue mission. The climber didn’t survive the 200-foot plunge from the mountainside.
Search and rescue crews arrived at the mountain’s base a short time later. Unfortunately, however, they weren’t able to go much further. Inclement weather, treacherous terrain, and a rapid decline in sunlight made the mission impossible to complete on Sunday, forcing crews to postpone the recovery of the climber until Monday. By getting an early start, helicopter crews will be able to locate and retrieve the body with far less danger and difficulty.
The exact location of the climbing incident is unknown. However, the approach to the main wall alone is exceedingly difficult. Reaching the climbing area requires a 2-mile hike across rocky terrain, during which a prospective climber must conquer an elevation gain of 1,800 vertical feet.
“This hike is considered strenuous and can take up to 6 hours to complete. There is very little shade along the way,” San Diego Parks and Recreation said on their website detailing the mountain. “Some 11 miles of trails provide a rugged route along a granite-ribbed ridgeline with stunning views of both ocean and mountains.”
Climber Death Marks Second El Cajon Fatality in Three Years
Though incidents at El Cajon Mountain aren’t a common occurrence, the recent death of the climber marked the second since 2019. In January of that year, 50-year-old Thomas Marc Castiglia met a hiking group at the base of El Cajon.
Their plan was to hike Lunch Rock, a nearly 3-mile trail considered highly challenging by even the most experienced hikers. But Castiglia had vanquished this challenge before and was confident in his ability to reach the summit.
Around three hours after the start of their trek, however, the hiker began to experience shortness of breath and told his friends to continue without him. When Castiglia didn’t rejoin his group at the trailhead, they called for help, the Sheriff’s Lakeside Substation, Search and Rescue Unit, and Aerial Support crew arriving at the scene a short while later.
Before long, search and rescue crews discovered a body at the base of a cliff, the subsequent investigation revealing the deceased man to be Thomas Marc Castiglia. “Everybody knows him, everybody knows him, and all good things. Everybody gives him a hug, pats on the back, ‘Atta boy,’ ‘How’s Martha, How’s Ben? How’s your business.’ It’s a tough act to follow,” David Leveille, a friend of Castiglia, told to NBC San Diego.