Trapped climber sleeps at edge of 600-foot cliff overnight

Iron County Sheriff's Ropes Team rescues a hiker from 600-foot cliff in Cedar City Saturday, Cedar City, Utah, June 11, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George/Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — A trapped climber who had to stay the night on the mountain Friday is safely home following a rescue effort by the Iron County Sheriff’s Ropes Team.

Iron County Sheriff's Ropes Team rescues a hiker from a 600-foot cliff in Cedar City Saturday, Cedar City, Utah, June 11, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News
Iron County Sheriff’s Ropes Team rescues a hiker from a 600-foot cliff in Cedar City Saturday, Cedar City, Utah, June 11, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

The seven-member ropes team was forced to climb the steep incline after a helicopter dispatched from Upper Limit Aviation was unsuccessful in dropping the crew on the 600-foot cliff where John Roberts, 34, had spent the night after getting himself trapped.

“The winds from the canyon and then from the storm that was approaching – that is still coming – caused very unsafe conditions for Upper Limit to land to put anybody down there. It was just not a safe situation,” Iron County Sheriff Lt. Del Schlosser said. “They went up and tried to get into the area but because of the wind conditions just couldn’t do it. It just was too unsafe for them to do it.”

The ropes team had worked until midnight Friday but, after one of their members was injured by a falling rock, the commander, Mike Gibbs, had to make a difficult decision – to keep trying and risk his own people in the dark or come back at the crack of dawn Saturday.

“It was very hard for us to leave last night. I kept talking about and going over it. It’s very hard for us to come off a rescue without somebody. Even though he wasn’t hurt or in danger it was hard for us,” Gibbs said.


Read more about the previous night’s rescue efforts: Man stranded on 600-foot cliff, ropes team called in


Roberts slept through the night in a crevice set back from the cliff’s edge; but with a storm moving in, he still endured some high winds and temperatures below 40 degrees. To stay warm, Roberts cut padding from his backpack to use, along with nearby vegetation, as insulation between his body and clothes – a trick he “learned on TV,” he said.

“When it’s cold and it’s windy,” Roberts said, “you have to be willing to sacrifice your things to stay alive.”

Gibbs, who made the drop down to save Roberts, placed the Floridian in a safety harness and with the assistance of the ropes team he was able to guide Roberts up to a safe location at approximately 9: 30 a.m.

“Situations like this, where someone is saved that is in this type of circumstance only happens in the movies,” Gibbs said, after starting up the mountain with Roberts in the harness.

Authorities said they were happy to see the outcome of the incident.

“To have this outcome – we love it. That’s why we’re here,” Gibbs said.

Iron County Sheriff's Ropes Team member helps rescued hiker remove his safety harness after he was rescued from 600-foot cliff in Cedar City Saturday, Cedar City, Utah, June 11, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George/Cedar City News
Iron County Sheriff’s Ropes Team member helps rescued hiker remove his safety harness after he was rescued from 600-foot cliff in Cedar City Saturday, Cedar City, Utah, June 11, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George/Cedar City News

Schlosser said the Iron County Sheriff’s Ropes Team has skilled climbers that train other ropes teams all over the state and surrounding states.

Roberts had been climbing with a friend when the two separated and went different directions.

“I was doing a shortcut I thought,” Roberts said. “He went left and I went right. I’m not sure why we separated but figured we’d meet up at the bottom.”

When his friend made it to the bottom of the mountain and Roberts wasn’t there he said he knew something was wrong. He called 911 immediately and helped authorities find the area Roberts was stuck.

Law enforcement was able to locate Roberts in the dark when he waved a flashlight from the top of the mountain.

In an interview with Cedar City News after coming off the mountain, Roberts said he recently moved to the Cedar City area from Florida and had never climbed a mountain before yesterday.

Roberts said he realized he was in trouble when he got in a place where he couldn’t go up or down.

“I tried to climb down and then I climbed back up and I realized there was too much of an incline for me to go anywhere safely,” Roberts said.

As for sleeping within inches of the edge of a cliff all night, Robert said he felt relatively secure considering the circumstances.

Roberts will climb again, he said, but next time he’ll make sure he has an experienced climber with him.

The mountain Roberts hiked is a popular rock climbing destination adjacent to state Route 14. It is also well known to the ropes team, Sheriff Mark Gower said. The team is often called there during the summer months on reports of climbers in the area who find themselves stuck on the cliffs near the peak.

Roberts was within 50 to 100 feet from where 19-year-old Thomas Christensen fell to his death last year on June 8 after losing his footing while climbing with some of his friends.

Gower said he expects more search and rescue efforts during the season as warm temperatures invited more hikers and climbers outside. He asks that the public be careful while enjoying the outdoors.

“We’re going to be busy this summer. Southern Utah is becoming more and more popular with tourists climbing and getting into the backcountry,” Gower said. “We’re starting to see large crowds, especially on the weekends moving into the backcountry to recreate, and with that comes injuries; people get hurt and ledged up. It’s important to know your abilities and know your limitations. Don’t do anything that’s going to put you in a position that you have to be rescued.”

Besides the Iron County Sheriff’s Ropes Team, Upper Limit Aviation, Iron County Sheriff ‘s deputies, Cedar City Police and Gold Cross Ambulance were on scene to assist with rescue efforts.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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10 Comments

  • Bob June 11, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    all these photos and yet not one of the 600 ft cliff?

    • Kristi June 11, 2016 at 9:53 pm

      I had them same question… Also if they could almost get to him once, why didn’t they leave him a blanket or something to keep him warm??? With everyone that showed up you know someone had something to leave him… Or maybe they were just teaching him a lesson for getting stuck in the first place… Lol

      • Bob June 12, 2016 at 1:22 pm

        yep, i’m sure they climbed all the way up there and then turned back just to punish him. are u for real?

        • .... June 12, 2016 at 2:21 pm

          She was kidding stupid. !

          • Bob June 12, 2016 at 2:42 pm

            find those meds yet, skipper?

  • Accountable June 11, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Why on earth couldn’t he just climb back up?

    My guess is that he is mentally challenged/disabled and became separated from his handlers. If not, he should be charged for all of the SAR resources utilized.

    • .... June 11, 2016 at 8:33 pm

      He does have to pay. …for all of it !

  • ScanMeister June 11, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    I know it was a tough call to leave him on the mountain Friday night…….but since there was no imminent danger and overnight temps were safe. It was a good call not putting the team in danger for a night rescue. Thanks to the volunteers that perform this lifesaving service. Good job Team!

  • Bob June 12, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    reminds me of those dumb cats that climb into tall trees and then can’t get down

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