Two local Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit members — Les Walker and Donny Goetz — received the Mountain Rescue Association’s highest award for any search and rescue team member.
On the night of Oct. 21, 2012, Walker and Goetz, who have climbed together for years, along with fellow RMRU members Lee Arnson and Helene Lohr, saved two climbers’ lives. Walker and Goetz climbed 300 feet up Tahquitz Rock in the dark. With temperatures plummeting the two’s climb, although more dangerous, saved time and was critical to the stranded climbers’ lives.
“They were so in control of the situation and confident they would pull it off,” said Arnson. “As I watched, they climbed into the darkness of night.”
After the rescue, Walker wrote about it for the RMRU website. He described helping the stranded hikers up to the trail: “The wind was so strong that I could not hear what was going on 200 feet below me, so I had to rely on feeling the rope as if I had a fish on the end and was reeling it in.”
The MRA’s Life Saving award is presented when rescue teams’ actions result in the preservation of a life that otherwise would almost certainly have been lost.
“Totally surprised and honored,” Walker said last week. “To be honored by my peers is very humbling.” But he acknowledged that climbing Tahquitz in complete darkness and the weather conditions (wind speed approaching 30 miles per hour) required teamwork, “complete trust,” in Walker’s words, and determination.
Walker and Goetz had to “simul climb,” ascend in parallel.
The MRA learned of the rescue from a citizen who forwarded the Town Crier story about it. The original rescue story appeared in the Oct. 25, 2012 issue.
While Goetz lives in Orange County, he has been coming to Idylllwild since 1972. “It’s where I learned to hike and climb,” he said.