Camelback Rock Climbers Have Few Options in Bee Attacks -- We Suggest Anti-Bee Kit

Categories: Outdoors

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Image: Wikipedia

New, temporary signs have gone up at Camelback Mountain to warn people about the danger of bees following the death on Monday of a 19-year-old hiker.

Signs on sandwich boards were placed at the trail head of Echo Canyon trail, and also along the trail on the north end of the Headwall area where the Joshua Ruzsa and his two friends turned to begin their tragic adventure.

The trio had walked the steep terrain along the Headwall cliff to an area called Icebox Canyon, and scrambled up part of an obscure climbing route known as George Route. When they were attacked by the swarm of bees, Ruzsa somehow fell off the cliff and plummeted at least 60 feet to his death.

See also:
- Camelback Mountain Hiker Dies After Fall During Bee Attack, Two Others Stung 300 Times Each; Off Main Trail on Climbing Route

The climbing routes in Icebox Canyon, some of the finest one-pitch sport routes in the 57-acre Echo Canyon park, and George Route remain open to climbers, despite the signs' warnings that hikers should stay on the trail.

"You can still access those areas," says David Urbinato, spokesman for the Phoenix Parks and Recreation department. "The signs just say that bees are in the area."

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Camelback climber's bee kit: Goggles and mask can keep bees from eyes and mouth just long enough to down-climb or set up a rappel.

As our previous articles on the tragedy noted, this wasn't the first bee attack on people climbing the crags at Camelback. And we're pretty sure it won't be the last.

That means rock climbers -- and, indeed, hikers who impulsively decide to go vertical on the enticing rock faces -- need to think about how they would handle an attack by swarming bees. There are few good options.

Continuing to climb upwards probably wouldn't be a good idea, in most cases. You wouldn't get far enough. When the bees start slamming their stingers in you, you've got to get down quickly. But that's not going to be easy if it took careful climbing moves to go up.

There are three ways down: Descent by rope, descent by down-climbing, and the likely fatal "express route" that should be avoided at all costs -- no matter how many bees sting you.

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Image: Channel 3 News (KTVK-TV)
Warning signs like this were placed at Camelback Mountain following the fatal fall on Monday of a 19-year-old man who was attacked by a swarm.
A healthy adult can survive hundreds upon hundreds of stings before the blood system becomes overwhelmed with venom. A Tucson climber survived after receiving 1,500 stings. A fall, however, can be fatal from just about any height, depending on how you land. (None of this advice on swarm attacks applies to those folks who are so allergic to bee stings that they could die after a single sting. Those people are toast, obviously.)

The rope option is best, since down-climbing while being stung repeatedly could be tricky. But in order to rappel or otherwise use the rope for a descent, it has to be set up correctly. As with down-climbing, setting an anchor and attaching the rope to it will be problematic in the swarm attack. Naturally, Murphy's Law will ensure that the rope will be tangled during this emergency.

Climbers at Camelback might want to consider packing an anti-bee kit (above) that consists of just two items: Eye goggles and a breathing mask.

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Image: Ray Stern
A beehive near Yellow Wall, a climbing route on the west side of the 57-acre Camelback Mountain park.

Bees, which often go up against much furrier animals than human beings, instinctively go after the victim's eyes and mouth. If you're scooping bees out of your eyes and wiping them from your nostrils and lips, you won't be able to use your hands to set up the rope or down-climb.

Donning the goggles and surgical mask could buy you just enough time to climb down or set up a rappel. It won't be easy: The bugs will be stinging you everywhere else the whole time. But the point is that you'll get down safely and away from those bees.

A few commenters have suggested that the city eradicate the beehives from Camelback. We're not sure if city officials would do that. But even if they did, Camelback visitors shouldn't assume every hive on the cliffs has been eradicated, or that bees would not return to the same favorite crevice from which they were booted.

Climbers also should know they may reach perches where no one else, even a parks and rec official, ever goes. As with climbs in remote areas, you're pretty much on your own if something goes wrong -- at least until someone calls in the helicopter.

Climb safely.



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