Rock Climber Hung Around for Bee Attack on Mt. Lemmon -- Literally

One of the best, if not only, defense against an attack of swarming killer bees is to run away.

But you can't do that when you're stuck on the side of steep cliff face, with no way to move up, down or sideways.

That's the situation a rock climber in southern Arizona found himself in on Tuesday, says a volunteer rescue worker who was on the scene.

Two men, a woman and a toddler were stung in the attack, says Bill Florence of the Southern Arizona Rescue Association. The guy left stranded on the Mount Lemmon climbing route got it the worst -- he's still in the hospital.

Names of the victims still aren't being released by authorities.

Rescue workers couldn't get back to us yesterday with details -- they were working another rescue in Sabino Canyon.

Florence tells New Times this morning that the group was climbing at the Hairpin Turn, also known as Left Hand Wall, an easy-to-hike-to crag off the Catalina Highway.

At about 6:30 p.m., the lead climber had just finished one of the 75-foot routes on the wall. Florence wasn't certain which route, but it's one of the places where the good climbing ends only part of the way up the cliff. Florence, who's been climbing in the area before, says the upper sections of the wall aren't usually ascended because of the crumbly rock.

The climber was in the process of setting up a rappel to the chains affixed when the swarm of bees showed up. The man was unable to self-rescue, or descend the rope at all during the attack. His belayer, the woman and the toddler bailed as the bees stung them, too, Florence says.

Another tip from experts for people unfortunate enough to become a victim in one of these swarm attacks is to pull up your shirt and cover your face. Bees tend to target the mouth and eyes. The rock climber in this case hadn't been wearing a shirt, Florence says.

"The initial attack lasted about 15 to 20 minutes," he says. "Then there were bees just flying around. If he'd swat at them, they'd go after him again."

It was about three hours before the man was brought down. Air blasts from a helicopter scattered many of the bees while rescuers hiked in. Some were still buzzing around the rescuers, but not aggressively, Florence says.

Rescuers never found a hive or discovered where the bees came from, he adds.

He also wasn't sure how many stings the climber received. An Arizona Daily Star article says this morning it was about 1,000.

Barring an allergic reaction, most adults wouldn't survive more than eight-to-10 stings per pound of body weight, according to Texas A&M researchers. So, assuming the victim was of average weight, he ought to come through okay. We'll give you an update on his condition when we get it.


UPDATE: Climber gives interview to Tucson TV station KVOA.


NEWER UPDATE: We talk to climber Robert Mackley, who also published his own account of the attack. 

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.