Climber fell 40 feet

October 5, 1985
Tahquitz Rock

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By Rob Gardner

A forty-nine year old man fell about forty feet while sport rock climbing at Tahquitz Rock on October 5,1985. Morris Valkoss lost his grip and fell while lead climbing the Piton Pooper route with his friend Jim. He was near the top of the route when he fell. He was twenty feet ahead of his protection, which did hold.

Morris Valkoss suffered abrasions to the right lower leg, possible broken ribs and possible fractures to the left ankle. The accident occurred at about 1:30 p.m. Other technical rock climbers hiked out from Tahquitz Rock and summoned help by contacting the Riverside County Sheriff's Office.

At about 5:30 p.m. the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit (RMRU) was called to rescue Morris. Morris' friend Jim remained on the rock with Morris. The RMRU had just completed an extensive day of training in the Mt. San Jacinto range, including a hike to the peak. They had just set up camp at Marion Flats when the call-out came over the radio (See Article on Training 10-5-85).

PREPARING TO LOWER RMRU members Rob Gardner, Walt Walker, and Bill Blaschko do a final check on the litter containing injured climber Morris Valkoss before he and litter attendant Bill are lowered down the face of Tahquitz Rock. (photo by Glenn Henderson)To expedite movement of RMRU/SAR personnel to Tahquitz Rock, and the rescue of Morris Valkoss a helicopter was released from Landells Aviation. With a moderate amount of difficulty a communication station and a helispot were developed at Marion Flats. As darkness and rainstorms moved in from the west, pilot Steve DeJesus managed to fly two trips from Marion Flats to Tahquitz Rock placing four RMRU members near the top of the Rock. This dangerous maneuver was accomplished using one runner landings. Steve made an additional flight in from Humber Park to the Rock, in the dark, bringing Operations Leader Walt Walker and a substantial amount of equipment to the Rock. Steve DeJesus then flew back to Landells Aviation hanger for special lighting apparatus but was unable to return until morning due to the weather conditions.

RMRU members on the Rock with Walt were: Cameron Robbins, Bill Blaschko, Glenn Henderson and Rob Gardner. In addition to personal gear members brought with them, Walt had flown in with two six hundred foot ropes, two 150 foot ropes, litter rigging, edge rollers, a sack of runners, a sack of carabiners, lowering devices, and more. By morning every piece of equipment was to have been used.

Cameron Robbins made first verbal contact with Jim and Morris at about 7:30 P.m. and Cameron was then lowered about two hundred feet down the face of Tahquitz Rock to Jim and Morris. Bill Blaschko, M.D., followed by rappel. Jim and Morris were on a small ledge (now joined by Cameron and Bill). Bill completed the medical assessment, first aid, and splinting of the left ankle.

THUMBS UP- With injured climber Morris Valkoss safely on board, RMRU member Kevin Walker gives the thumbs up OK for lift off to pilot Steve DeJesus of Landless Aviation as he holds helicopter 816 in one runner position atop Lunch Rock. RMRU members and Steve had their hands full with this part of the operation as rain squalls that ranged from light to heavy moved over the San Jacinto Mountains. (photo by Glenn Henderson)Rob, Walt and Glenn climbed up Tahquitz Rock, obtained a stokes litter that is stored on the rock and took it to the site from which Cameron and Bill descended. Much of the gear was loaded into the litter and lowered, with Glenn tending. Rob then rappelled, followed by Walt.

Each person had as much gear strapped on their back and dangling between their legs as they could manage. Walt, with the six-hundred foot rope on his back and his pack hanging in front of him tied off to his harness, looked like a moving Sporting Goods Store. Everybody regrouped at the small ledge or in cracks and crevices nearby.

Meanwhile, Cameron had established a safety line which everybody and everything was tied into. Anchors were setup for the lowering operation. When the system was ready Morris was secured into the litter and lowered about three hundred feet into the darkness of the night. The mission was blessed with warm temperatures while threatened with lightning in the distance and rain storms moving towards the Rock.

Bill Blaschko tended to the litter and the patient during the lowering. He stopped on a substantial ledge. Jim, the RMRU members and the equipment again were moved down the Rock, on RMRU members backs as they rappelled.

The operation was halted in midnight with Morris being stable and all persons being on a safe shelf. Walt and Rob remained with Morris and Jim. The others hiked out planning to return in the morning with the litter wheel. A few hours of sleep was gathered by all before daybreak arrived.

At first light there was also first rain. Morris and the gear were protected from the rain with tarps. The others broke out their rain garments. The helicopter was dispatched at about 6:30 a.m. Steve DeJesus was pilot again. An attempt was made to pick up the other RMRU members at Marion Flats but a cloud hanging up on Marion Peak prevented the pick up. Alternate plans were being initiated when Kevin Walker suddenly was blaring over the radio that the cloud had lifted for the moment and "it's now or never" in reference to a helicopter pick up. Steve flew to Marion Flats and lifted the other team members (Ray Hussey, Mel Krug, Kevin Walker, Steve Bryant) out and over to Tahquitz Rock (two flights). Sure enough the clouds dropped back down on Marion Peak as the second group was flown out. With all RMRU personnel on the Rock (and Jack Bowman on the radio in base camp with John Dew) a final lower was carried out in the rain. The final lower was one hundred feet, complicated by angles, boulders and wet lichen. Rob and Walt tended the litter and Morris.

The next move was to carry the litter to Lunch Rock, which was achieved without comment and with good team work. Steve DeJesus brought the helicopter in for another one runner landing and held her steady while Morris was loaded onto the helicopter to be flown down to Camp Maranatha. Subsequently, Jim and the RMRU men and equipment were flown to Camp Maranatha. Morris went on for further medical care. A major sorting of equipment took place, the team had breakfast together, recovered their personal vehicles which were at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway parking lot (70 miles away), and this writer headed home to get some sleep.