Lone adventurer found dead after fall in Death Valley canyon

People walk in a narrow canyon.
Hikers make their way through the narrows of Mosaic Canyon at Death Valley National Park in July 2010. The body of a man who apparently fell 30 feet was found this month in the canyon, authorities said.
(National Park Service)

A 54-year-old man was found dead in a Death Valley National Park canyon, where officials said he had probably fallen 30 feet while adventuring alone.

The man, who was not identified, was canyoneering — an adventurous sport that involves hiking and rappelling into canyons — in the park’s Mosaic Canyon when officials believe he reached the end of his rappel rope about 30 feet above the ground, according to a statement from park spokesperson Abby Wines.

The man tried to tie a piece of webbing to the end of his rope, but “appears to have made a mistake” when moving to rappel past the knot, Wines said.

The man was found Dec. 3, days after park officials noticed signs of the man’s abandoned campsite and car, but it’s unclear when the fatal fall occurred. The Inyo County coroner’s office has not determined the cause of death and is still working to notify the next of kin before releasing the man’s name.


Wines said it probably took more than a week for officials to discover the man because he was never reported missing.

“We recommend that anyone going into the backcountry lets someone know their plans,” Wines said in a statement. “The park doesn’t track the 1.7 million people that visit each year.”

David Kelleher, 67, was found in Death Valley National Park not far from his vehicle, where officials found a crumpled note that read, ‘Out of gas.’

June 16, 2022

Unfortunately, she said, the search “did not start in time to save his life.” A satellite communication device could have also assisted in jump-starting the search if the man survived the fall, she said.

Park rangers became aware of an issue after a campground host reported an abandoned campsite Nov. 27 — about six days before the body was located, Wines said. The campsite still had a tent set up with items inside, but no vehicle, and was past its reservation date.

After leaving a note on the tent, rangers returned to pack up the site’s equipment, noticing climbing gear and a package with the man’s name and address, she said.

Rangers later matched that name and address to the registration of a vehicle that they noticed had remained for days at the Mosaic Canyon trailhead, Wines said.

A multiagency search began Dec. 3, finding the man’s body along the West Fork route in Mosaic Canyon, which Wines said is not a canyoneering route commonly descended. She said a helicopter was key to locating the man.

Wines recommended that people canyoneer as part of a group, due to the inherent risks.

This is the third confirmed death in the park this year outside of traffic fatalities, according to officials. In June, a man died after running out of gas and another was found dead in a remote section of the park.

One of the most famous canyoneering misadventures, which became the basis for the movie “127 Hours,” involved adventure seeker Aron Ralston, who got his arm wedged between a boulder and a canyon wall while exploring alone in Utah. He was pinned in the canyon for six days until he cut off part of his right arm to free himself.