Morro Bay mountain climber dies on Mount Whitney

May 5, 2017

Jose “Ramiro” Leon Penloza

A Morro Bay man slipped and fell while climbing near the 14,494-foot peak of Mount Whitney last month. Jose “Ramiro” Leon Penloza, 29, died in the accident.

On April 21, Penloza, an avid climber, was heading up Mount Whitney’s Mountaineer’s Route, a more challenging climb than the commonly used trail from the Whitney Portal to the peak. Penloza apparently fell while traversing the north face of the mountain, an area with snow and ice, according to the United States National Park Service.

Authorities learned of the accident from a group of hikers that passed Penloza around 4 p.m. at an elevation of around 13,800 feet. Penloza was ascending the last chute near the summit, and the group was hiking down the trail, according to the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office.

Later, while the group was continuing its descent, a backpack tumbled down near the hikers. The group recognized the backpack as the one belonging to Penloza.

Members of the group repeatedly called out for the man but did not receive a response. The group then hiked down to Iceberg Lake, which is situated at an elevation of 12,600 feet, in order to get cell reception to call 911.

At that point, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation, but it was too dark to begin an aerial search.

On the following morning, a CHP helicopter from Apple Valley conducted a search. The helicopter crew found Penloza’s body around 1 p.m.

Penloza’s body was lying within the boundaries of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. National park officials coordinated the recovery of the body.

Originally from Valle de Bravo, Mexico, Penloza moved to the United States when he was 17. Penloza was a soccer fan and a photographer, according to a GoFundMe page set up on his behalf.

He “loved taking pictures of all his adventures and taking a shot of every beautiful mountain or view he saw and loved selling his work,” the GoFundMe page states.

The webpage raised $7,755 for funeral costs and so that Penloza’s body could be transported to his family in Mexico.

Additionally, an art show that celebrated Penloza’s life was held last week in Morro Bay. Penloza’s photographs were sold at the event to help raise funds.

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It was too dark to perform an aerial search? They’ve got helicopters with thermal vision, dogs, and lots of other equipment, and they waited until morning to look for him? Sounds like some real heroes…

Flying a helicopter next to rugged mountain cliffs is hazardous enough in daytime. Thermal cameras or not (& the CHP chopper may not have had one), nighttime navigation is too risky. As for getting people and dogs up the long trail to his location — the trailhead is about 9000′ if I remember right and he was close to 14,000′. It might have taken them all night to walk up but they would still have to wait for daylight because he was off the trail and they didn’t know exactly where.

This is one of the risks you must accept when you engage in real mountain climbing. I am betting that he knew this and accepted that risk. Deadly accidents are not common but they are not rare either.