Rangers Rescue Two Overdue Canyoneers at Zion National Park

October 10, 2012

Zion National Park Rangers rescued canyoneers overdue from a hike Tuesday, Oct. 9, three days after the pair started what was to be a one-day trip, according to National Park Service officials.

The two hikers, a 41 year old man and a 26 year old female, were attempting Heaps Canyon, one of Zion National Park’s more difficult canyoneering routes. Heaps Canyon is eleven miles long and involves a 300 foot free hanging rappel, swimming through cold water, and numerous other obstacles, including slick rock potholes which can be difficult to traverse.

At approximately 9 a.m. on Saturday, the pair picked up their wilderness permit and said they estimated completing it in a day. The park ranger notified them that most people start pre-dawn in order to make Heaps Canyon a day trip. The pair said they were prepared to spend the night if necessary. While the two were never reported overdue, rangers did note that their vehicle was still parked at a trailhead on the morning of the Monday, Oct. 8.

A helicopter from Grand Canyon was called in for the search. The helicopter crew located the canyoneers in the lower reaches of Heaps Canyon late Monday afternoon. After three days of travelling, the two had only completed about two thirds of the canyon, and some of the canyon’s most difficult obstacles still lay ahead. The crew was able to get a radio to the pair who stated that they were not able to complete the canyon without assistance. On Tuesday morning,  a ranger and firefighter were inserted to a bench above the two canyoneers. They cleared a helispot which enabled the helicopter to land with additional rescuers. The six member rescue team lowered a ranger from the bench 125 feet down to the stranded pair and then hauled all three people back to the bench. The two canyoneers did not require medical assistance.

The successful conclusion to the search was in part because the hikers had obtained a backcountry hiking permit which included information useful to the searchers. However, wilderness hikers should always inform someone of their plans along with an expected completion time. Had rangers not noticed the canyoneers’ vehicle at the trailhead, it is unclear when or if the two would have been reported overdue. The group also had far less experience than most Heap’s Canyon travelers, park service officials said. While canyon hiking (canyoneering) in Zion can be a challenging and rewarding activity, it is not one that should be entered into lightly, according to NPS officials.