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Tahquitz Rock Night Rescue Update: Climbers Help SD Newlyweds Descend

Joe Hunt, 50, of Long Beach and a friend climbed Fingertip Traverse on Saturday night and found two young newlyweds at the top of the Trough. Hunt and his partner helped the newlyweds down the Friction Route in darkness.

Two rock climbers, one with more than 30 years' experience, rescued two newlywed climbers Saturday night on Tahquitz Rock, the prominent dome that looms above Idyllwild.

Initial reports indicated the couple were lost hikers, but that was not the case, Joe Hunt, 50, of Long Beach, said Monday. They were inexperienced climbers from San Diego who used a rope and gear to ascend an easy route up Tahquitz, but couldn't find the way down.

"They were stressed, no laughing about it," said Elizabeth "Ellie" Rotter, 35, of Scottsdale, Az. "They had no water, no food, she'd been crying. She told me she was about to break down. They were so glad to see us."

The newlyweds had a phone but the battery died earlier while they were talking to an emergency dispatcher, Hunt said. The couple was preparing to spend the night out when Hunt and Rotter arrived.

"Me and Ellie climbed Fingertip Traverse and finished about 9:30 p.m.," Hunt told Banning-Beaumont Patch in a phone interview Monday.

Fingertip Traverse is a multi-pitch route that starts on the West Face area, and ends near the top of the Trough, one of the easiest routes up Tahquitz.

"It was nice on top, mid-60s, no mosquitoes, we could see the lights in town," Hunt said. "We could even hear the live band playing at the bar in Idyllwild, real clear. We were singing along with them."

Then Hunt heard somebody calling for help. There was no moonlight yet, but Hunt and Rotter found the couple.

"They were newlyweds, in their 20s, young and fit and attractive," Hunt said. "They said they married in July. To look at them you'd think they were top-notch climbers. But it turned out they were newbies."

They'd climbed the Trough using a rope, harnesses and a rack of climbing hardware for protection, and they both had climbing shoes, Hunt said.

"They said they started late afternoon and finished before dark," Hunt said. "But they didn't bring water and they didn't know the descent."

Hunt said he first climbed on Tahquitz in 1979, and he's familiar with the Friction Route descent on the south side of the dome. He had the only fully-functioning headlamp Saturday night.

"Mine was not working right," Rotter said. "I had to keep one hand on my lamp to keep it strobing, so the newlyweds could see, and one hand on the rock."

Hunt said he usually gets down the Friction Route in about five minutes, but in the darkness with one light for four climbers, it took more than an hour.

"When we hit the dirt the couple was quite relieved," Hunt said in a post on SuperTopo. "We hiked them around to Lunch Rock where we met up with the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit.

"There were six of them, five guys and one woman," Hunt said. "They had packed up enough water, food, clothes, headlamps, ski poles, ropes, climbing and rescue gear to take care of and save a large party.

"They were great people and super friendly," Hunt said. "They had packed all that heavy gear and provisions up to Lunch Rock in 30 minutes, and looked psyched and happy to be up there on the mountain."

Hunt and Rotter left the newlyweds with the rescue volunteers at that point, and made it to the bar in Idyllwild before closing.

"I told everybody there Ellie was the hero," Hunt said. "She did great."

The newlyweds said they were planning to return to San Diego, Hunt and Rotter said. They were not injured and did not require medical attention, according to the sheriff's department.

Angel's Fright, referred to in initial reports about the rescue, is a route that ascends Tahquitz between Fingertip Traverse and the Trough.

Tahquitz and Suicide rocks were renowned for decades among several generations of Southern California climbing pioneers, men and women. There are hundreds of routes on both rock formations, and they remain popular destinations for climbers of all ages.

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