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Los Angeles man dies after falling 95 feet in Death Valley

A sculpture of a prospector marks a boundary of Death Valley National Park.
A sculpture of a prospector marks a boundary of Death Valley National Park.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

An experienced canyoneer died after falling 95 feet in Death Valley National Park last Saturday in what officials described as a freak accident.

Justin Ibershoff, 38, of Los Angeles, was descending on a challenging route in Deimos Canyon with six friends when he apparently stepped on a rock that shifted.

That triggered a rockslide that swept Ibershoff past two fellow canyoneers and over the edge of a steep slope, said Abby Wines, management assistant at Death Valley National Park.

Wines, a canyoneer herself, knew Ibershoff from his frequent trips to the area. She said he was known for being cautious.

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In fact, just before falling, he had warned his companions to tread carefully because the rocks appeared loose, said Wines, who spoke to people who witnessed the accident.

The rocks in the area had apparently become precariously balanced without anyone’s knowledge.

“It was just a death trap waiting for the next person that would step in the wrong spot,” Wines said.

Many in the group had been to the canyon before and knew the terrain well, she said.

Park officials are now advising other canyoneers to avoid the upper section of Deimos Canyon.

The group used an emergency locator beacon to call for assistance and aided rescuers by providing details.

After assessing Ibershoff’s condition, the group continued down the canyon with rocks still falling.

A Navy helicopter from the nearby Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake located Ibershoff a few hours later. Crew members were lowered to the body and determined that Ibershoff was dead.

The following day, an Inyo County search-and-rescue team flew into the area with a California Highway Patrol helicopter and recovered the body.

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Ibershoff, who was living in downtown Los Angeles at the time of his death, is survived by his father, stepmother and sister, Wines said.

According to Outward Bound, the techniques used to explore canyons can include “hiking, scrambling, sliding, stemming, chimneying and rappelling.”

In describing canyoneering, the group’s website says, “Imagine extreme hiking with a harness, a helmet and appropriate rope systems.”

Canyoneering fatalities in the park are rare, Wines said, with the only other death occurring about two years ago.

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There are more than 200 canyoneering routes in the park, she said.

But the third rappel in Deimos, where the accident occurred, is unique.

Usually, rappels — areas that canyoneers descend using ropes — are relatively flat at the top, Wines said.

But, she said, the top of the Deimos rappel is composed of large boulders that fell and wedged themselves in the canyon sometime in the past.

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“The whole area almost feels like a room,” Wines said, “because there’s a big boulder above you as you go down into it.”


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