Incident:Severe Fall in Lytle Creek (Middle Fork) 2019-05-27

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Incident:Severe Fall in Lytle Creek (Middle Fork) 2019-05-27
Date 2019/05/27
Location Lytle Creek (Middle Fork)
Severity Injury
Canyoneering-related Yes
SAR involvement Yes
Navigation problem No
Environmental problem No
Communication problem No
Planning problem No
Skills problem No
Body movement problem Yes
Rigging problem No
Rappel problem No
Insufficient gear No
Gear failure No


A canyoneer fell the entire length (80 feet) of the 4th drop of the canyon and sustained critical injuries. SAR was dispatched via emergency beacon and injured canyoneer airlifted to hospital.


On May 27th, 2019 a group of 3 canyoneers consisting of Eileen Beall, Justin Pugh, and Becca Rogers descended the Middle Fork of Lytle Creek. Although rain had been present in the area the day before, water flow did not appear hazardous and all members of the group were very comfortable with the conditions in the canyon. The weather was beautiful and by many standards the conditions were ideal. Aside from fashioning a natural anchor at the top of the 2nd rappel, the canyon was descended in typical fashion.

The incident occurred in the pothole between the 3rd and 4th rappels. The canyon left side of this pothole features a substantial ledge that gives way to the drainage on canyon right. This drainage features a narrow chute roughly waist-deep that flattens quickly to maybe 1/2' toward the lip. The anchor for the 4th drop is directly above this chute and requires stepping directly into the watercourse. The drop is approximated at 80'.

In the conditions that day, the pothole was deep enough in sections to be swam. Justin descended first, swam the pothole and climbed safely onto the ledge. Becca descended next and safely joined him on the dry ledge. As Eileen descended the rope, Justin and Becca had a conversation about the next drop and it was decided that Becca would set the next anchor once the rope was ready. Eileen was getting off rappel, and Justin went back into the pothole to start pulling the rope. Unseen by the others, Becca approached the anchor, stepping into the watercourse and slipping. Eileen looked over just in time to see her disappear, and shouted to Justin. Justin finished the pull down and dragged the rope to the ledge (the rope was not to be bagged due to the close proximity of the two drops). As the rope was being flaked to set the anchor, Eileen spotted Becca on the ground and observed that she was moving.

Justin cautiously stepped into the chute and clipped into the anchor and was able to safely set the rappel. In crossing this chute, both Justin and Eileen encountered a swift enough current that required awareness and concentration. In addition to the current, it seemed that there was the possible presence of algae that lent itself to very poor traction for this exposed maneuver. It is assumed that these conditions caused Becca to lose traction as she approached the anchor.

Justin descended to Becca and found her very badly hurt, but conscious. Basic first aid was administered by Justin and was continued by Eileen after she descended. It was quickly decided that Justin would go for help, and Eileen would stay with Becca. Justin rappelled the last drop, and proceeded down canyon. Eileen treated Becca's legs and head to stem blood loss, and kept her awake and as warm as possible in the unavoidable spray from the falls.

Miraculously, help was found a short distance down canyon from a family who was camping for the weekend. Justin and 2 members of the family scrambled to a ridge above where Becca and Eileen were, and activated a SPOT beacon. After that, one of the family members ran back to the trailhead as a contingency. Another family member provided blankets and an additional first aid kit which were lowered by rope.

A helicopter appeared after an approximate 3 hour wait and Becca was safely airlifted to a local hospital. She arrived in critical condition, hypothermic at 94F with blood loss and multiple fractures. Her helmet almost certainly prevented a more severe head injury. Justin and Eileen safely made it out of the canyon, and Becca is mending well at the hospital. A huge thanks to the family who helped, and the San Bernardino Search and Rescue who safely got her to the hospital.

Preventative Measures

We strongly urge protecting access to this anchor. As the ledge offers no suitable protection, one solution is to have each person stay on rappel until clipping in to the next anchor.

More generally - be alert and constantly assess risk as you proceed. Do not rely on beta or other group members to identify hazards. That said - if you see a hazard, alert your group members.

Think ahead, particularly when setting and descending multistage rappels. Reassess hazards when you arrive on a ledge.

Assume all watercourses are slippery and/or potentially forceful. Algae or slippery surfaces may not always be visible. Current will have a much greater effect on those of lower body weight.

Always consider if you need to protect access to the anchor.

Becca was wearing Bestard canyon shoes. These Vibram soles may not be the best for wet canyons but no shoe can 100% protect against algae and other slippery surfaces.

An emergency tarp would have reduced the risk of hypothermia. Be sure to insulate the entire body from the ground.

Second rap flow:

Second rap flow