Several incidents kept rangers and search and rescue teams busy over a three-day period.
Illustrating a growing trend in the use of wireless devices in emergency response, the Zion search and rescue team assisted a 22-year-old Virginia man who suffered a compound fracture of the lower leg on the night of July 8th. While descending the Observation Point Trail in darkness the man stepped off the trail to urinate. In the process he lost his balance and fell onto the switchback below. Unable to stand, he crawled and reached as high as possible for cell signal to send two brief text messages to his friends; they were already off the trail and called the park’s dispatch center to request rescue.
On the evening of July 9th ranger Lauren Hamilton began investigating a vehicle she had observed parked at a pullout on the east side of the park throughout the day. Shortly thereafter, the family of a 55-year-old Virginia man arrived at the pullout reporting an overdue party. The Virginia man had intended to explore an off trail area locally known as “The Center of the Universe” asking his family to report him overdue if he did not return by 6 p.m. Rangers Hamilton and Josh Wentz searched the area, soon hearing screams for help. The echo of the man’s voice through the canyons made locating him extremely difficult. Wentz spotted the man clinging to the side of a cliff shortly before sunset. Wentz ascertained the man had no supplies, was weak, cold, and had been stuck in the same spot since 2:30 that afternoon. The visitor was also shirtless, having utilized his tee shirt and shoe laces to anchor himself to a shrub on the cliff face. Zion SAR team members worked throughout the night to climb 500 feet of low 5th class terrain to reach the man, on the north side of Aries Butte. The man was secured and lowered to the ground that night. Throughout the incident the man commented on the classic mistake people make on the slick rock sandstone: it’s easy to go up, but scary and difficult to go down.
On Sunday, July 10th a 47-year-old man from Hurricane, Utah suffered an isolated ankle fracture when he jumped off a 10-foot obstacle in the Subway Route. The initial report was received by cell phone call through 911 Washington County Dispatch shortly before noon after a member of the man’s party hiked out of the Subway route to the trailhead. With the assistance of the Grand Canyon short-haul team, the patient was extricated early that evening and delivered to the Hurricane BLS ambulance.
This season alone, park rangers have resolved several hiking and canyoneering incidents with the aid of text messaging. These include canyoneering parties in Behunin Canyon who have gotten ropes stuck, were unable to find rappel anchors, and who were under-prepared for the route and conditions. Text messaging proved to be extremely effective for rangers to gather information and provide key instructions. Voice contact from the canyon floor is often impossible due to the nature of the terrain and noise of flowing water. Though cell service is quite limited to non-existent in the park’s terrain of deep, narrow canyons, texting has worked when calls couldn’t. In assisting these parties via wireless devices in executing safe self-rescue, rangers appropriately avoided lengthy and risky rescue efforts. As always, those who venture into the backcountry are responsible for their own safety. Know the route and conditions, be prepared for the trip, and remember that technology provides no guarantee of rescue.