Last updated: June 24, 2016
On May 21, 2016 Zion dispatch received a report of an overdue party in Heaps Canyon. The reporting party (RP) stated that the group had started at 4:30 am at Lava Point and had not made it out yet. Due to the late hour of the call the RP was told to let us know in the morning if the group had still not made it out. On May 22nd at 800am rangers made contact with the RP and were told that the party had still not made it out of the canyon. The RP was asked to stay at a pullout on the roadway where he could observe the final rappel sequence in Heaps canyon and to let Rangers know if any one started to descend the rappels. At about 11:30 am when there was still no sign of the party, a helicopter from the Grand Canyon was requested for an aerial reconnaissance and possible short-haul if the party was located and in trouble. At about 2:00pm, just before the Grand Canyon Helicopter was launched a group arrived at the final rappel sequence and began descending. The RP notified rangers and reported that the first person who reached the ground was not a member of his party, but had seen the group moving around 8:00am. It was learned at this time that the party was still moving out of the canyon. They had leaks in their drysuits and had spent the night to dry out. Two SAR team members were sent up the trail to the bottom of the last rappel (Upper Emerald Pools). The three members of the overdue party all made it to the bottom of the last rappel safely.
Members of the overdue party told SAR team members that they had spent a lot of time replacing anchors and that their dry suits had started leaking so they took longer than expected the first day. They decided to spend the night to dry out and warm up. The group had a 200 foot rope, a 300 foot pull cord and were planning on their 3rd party member to be at the bottom of the last rappel to send up a 300 foot rope.
Lessons learned for the party: Test your equipment before making a commitment to a canyon as dangerous as Heaps Canyon. Don't rely on someone else not in the party for your equipment needs. The plan made sense if everything went according to plan but if it didn't the party was not self-sufficient to get through the canyon.