Fall Proves Fatal to Climber in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park, a climbing mecca in southern California, was the scene of a fatal climbing accident on Sunday. NPS photo of "the Arete" by Sam Roberts.

A 67-year-old icon of the southern California climbing community has died in a fall at Joshua Tree National Park.

Curtis Woodrow Stark II, of Riverside, California, was leading a climb up a formation known as the "Great Burrito" on Sunday when he encountered problems and began to descend. However, the climber lost his grip and fell, striking his companion, Alfred Kuok, on the way down. While Mr. Kuok's equipment prevented him from falling any farther, Mr. Stark plummeted about 100 feet and died from head injuries, according to park officials.

The two men were climbing in an area near the Hidden Valley Nature Trail. Two nearby rock climbers responded to the scene and lowered Mr. Kuok, 44, of Claremont, California, from the cliff face.

National Park Service rangers received word of the accident at approximately 4:40 p.m. Park rangers and members of the Joshua Tree Search & Rescue responded to the incident. Mr. Kuok was treated by emergency personnel for back pain, rib injuries, and other possible internal injuries.

A San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office helicopter was called in and airlifted Mr. Kuok to Desert Regional Hospital in Palm Springs. Personnel from the Riverside County Coroner’s Office also responded to the accident scene.

Joshua Tree is a climbing mecca, drawing both climbers and bouldering athletes from around the world. The park boasts more than 400 climbing formations that combined offer about 8,000 routes.

According to local media reports, Mr. Stark had popularized Joshua Tree as a climbing area back in the 1960s and pioneered many of today's popular routes.