In a tragic accident, a 54-year-old man plunged to his death during a canyoneering excursion in Death Valley National Park. According to park officials, the man was venturing into the park alone. Officials found him on Dec. 3 on the West Fork route in Mosaic Canyon.
Unfortunately, per accounts from a park official, he was never reported missing. As a result, the search didn’t begin in time to save him. Now, the park is urging visitors to let their friends and family know if they decide to go into the national park.
“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 park spokesperson Abby Wines.
According to park officials, multiple indicators led to the initial search for the man. At the time, a campground employee reported a campsite with a tent still up, but with no people nearby. Rangers decided to leave a note at the campsite. Then, they returned the following day to pack up the abandoned tent. They also discovered climbing gear and a package with a name and address.
Then, another clue came when park rangers saw a vehicle at the Mosaic Canyon Trailhead several days earlier. Once they returned to the car’s location, they ran the plates and found that the name on the vehicle’s registration matched the name and address on the package from the tent.
Death Valley park officials discover man thanks to clues from his car, tent site
Immediately after, the search began for the man. The entire rescue mission was conducted by the 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.
Both park rangers and SAR team members found that the man’s climbing rope was not long enough to touch the ground on a long rappel.
According to reports from park officials, the man tied a piece of webbing to the rope’s end. However, they found he had made an error when taking off his rappel device to pass the knot connecting the rope and webbing. As a result, he plummeted about 30 feet, according to the NPS.
Canyoneering is a recreational activity where one goes into canyons by hiking, downclimbing, and rappelling. However, it’s usually done in a group setting due to the obvious risks associated with the sport. According to reports from Death Valley officials, the route the man used was not a typically-used route.
While falling is always a risk when visiting a national park, in Death Valley, it’s not the biggest threat at Death Valley. As it turns out, car crashes are the most significant danger at Death Valley. In the last decade, there have been 14 deaths due to car accidents. Most of them occurred on CA 190, which snakes through the park.