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Rangers Conduct Multiple Technical Rescues

Zion National Park

National Park News

The park’s search and rescue team conducted four canyoneering rescues in three days, then took on a big wall rescue of two injured climbers:

  • July 16th – On the morning of July 16th, a 20-year-old man suffered a lower leg fracture after a short fall while descending into Mystery Canyon. When the injury occurred, he was over a quarter mile and 400 vertical feet below the canyon rim in a steep, heavily-vegetated gully. When rangers arrived on scene, he told them he’d be willing to assist with his evacuation, but that he could not bear any weight on the injured leg. Over the next six hours, he laboriously worked his way to the canyon rim with rangers’ assistance while the park’s contract helicopter staged at a nearby landing zone. His fortitude prevented the need for a complex technical rope rescue or a helicopter short haul. When he arrived on the East Mesa Trail, the helicopter evacuated him from the wilderness. While this incident was occurring, rangers were alerted to a 37-year-old male in the Narrows who was unable to stand or walk. The man, who was suffering from cumulative knee and lower leg injuries, had stopped hiking and sent others out to seek help. Though he had intended to complete the strenuous, 16-mile route as a day trip on July 15th, he spent an unplanned night in the Narrows.  Members of the park SAR team conducted a six-hour litter carry of the patient via the park’s SAR pack raft.
  • July 17th – A group of seven canyoneers in Imlay Canyon requested help for two people who had taken separate falls. Members of the group began their descent of Imlay on July 16th. This canyon has one of the park’s more difficult canyoneering routes, with over 20 rappels, extremely cold water, and numerous potholes requiring specialized techniques for escape.  As group members were completing a 10 foot rappel using a log jammed crosswise in the canyon as an anchor, the log anchor failed and the 20-year-old man who was on the rope suffered a possible lower leg fracture. The injured man was moved a short distance down canyon to a wide area and all spent the night there.  In the morning, one party member stayed with the injured man while the remaining five canyoneers continued on the route, promising to send help once their trip was complete. Early in the evening of July 17th, they arrived at the last rappel 140 feet above the Zion Narrows.  The first canyoneer to complete the free-hanging rappel then hurried to the Temple of Sinawava Trailhead two miles downstream to report the incident.  Group members were using the carabineer block technique at the anchor, allowing party members to rappel on one strand of rope while using two strands of rope tied together to function as a pull cord.  If used correctly, a carabineer and knot jam against the anchor prevents the rope from pulling through the anchor while the canyoneer is on rope. Connecting the rappel device to the correct side of the anchor is critical.  The second-to-last party member to descend the last rappel attached her device on the wrong side of the anchor; when she put weight on it, she fell the entire distance into the shallow water below – a distance equivalent to 13 stories. Her life was likely saved by the friction or bunching of the rope whipping through the anchor, slowing her fall just enough at the last second. While a ranger at the trailhead was taking information concerning the initial lower leg fracture, a visitor rushed to the trailhead to report that a woman had fallen 140 feet. Rangers quickly organized a carryout via raft litter and evacuated the woman to the trailhead, arriving shortly after midnight. Her most serious injury was a shattered ankle.  On the morning of July 18th, Grand Canyon National Park’s contract helicopter and short-haul team evacuated the man with the initial lower leg fracture out of the center of Imlay Canyon. The use of short haul prevented the need for a long, difficult technical rope rescue.  Charges concerning the group’s wilderness permit violations are pending.
  • July 19th – Just after 11 p.m. on July 19th, flashing lights and shouts for help were seen and heard from halfway up the vertical cliff face below Angels Landing, prompting a shuttle bus driver to alert park rangers. Using a patrol vehicle PA system, spotlight and headlamp flashes, rangers were able to communicate with the climbers. They determined that there were two climbers on the Northeast Buttress and that at least one had fallen and suffered a head injury. Before calling for help, the climbers had attempted to retreat but did not have enough rope to clear a huge free hanging rappel. They’d also discovered that their single 70-meter rope had been badly damaged. Members of the park’s technical rescue team rallied early the next morning at the top of Angels Landing for the rescue. The Zion helitack crew supported the team with recon flights and a sling load of ropes and equipment. Helicopter recon proved critical in establishing the appropriate fall line for the ensuing 1,300-foot lowering operation. The team used two high directionals to help keep the mainline free of obstacles. As ranger/paramedic Brandon Torres was lowered approximately 700 feet to the climbers, he carefully cleared debris to significantly reduce rock fall hazard. The climbers, brothers aged 34 and 31, were in stable condition and able to describe the events of the previous day. They’d gotten off route on the fifth or sixth pitch of the Northeast Buttress. Once off route, each had taken separate and substantial falls – one had sustained hand injuries and the other hit his head and lost consciousness for a short time. Torres connected the climbers to the rescue system and all three were lowered another 600 feet to the ground. The climbers were on the ground by 1:30 p.m. Ranger Therese Picard served as operations chief.


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