Sick in the Subway with Unexpected Overnight

July 23, 2016 Posted by: Zion National Park

On July 22, 2016 at about 9:45pm, Zion Dispatch was contacted by a visitor reporting that there was a group of 7 in the Left Fork of North Creek that had a group member who was very sick and they weren't going to be able to make it out. The reporting party (RP) was a person driving a car past the Left Fork trailhead who was flagged down by another group who was reporting to her that this party in the Subway needed help, making this a 3rd hand report.

At about 11:00pm Zion dispatch received another report of the party needing help. This report came directly from the group that received the request for help but they were unable to confirm an exact location of the distressed party.

At 6:00am on July 23rd a Ranger went to the trailhead to confirm that the party's vehicles were still there and they were. Because an exact location of the subject party could not be identified, a team was assembled to go in from the bottom and another team assembled to go down from the top (the Subway route requires multiple rappels that cannot be up climbed).

At about 12:30pm on the 23rd the top down rescue team located the party at the bottom of the final approach gully where Russell Gulch meets the Left Fork. The party said that they had gotten off route the day before and ended up spending the night above the Subway drainage. They had GPS coordinates and a GPS but they still got lost and one of the members of the group had gotten sick after hiking around all day looking for the route. After getting some sleep, the sick member of the party said that he was feeling better. They were tired but said they were in good enough condition to hike out.

The team started hiking them back out the approach route rather than down canyon (shorter hike and there are landing zones for helicopters on the approach route). After the steep hike out of the Left Fork drainage several of the group members were complaining of dehydration, weakness and the inability to continue hiking out. The original member of the group who was reported as being sick became sick again.

The group requested helicopter evacuation for 4 of the group members. Lifeflight was called and told there were four possible patients needing transport via helicopter. The rescue team identified a landing zone on a slick rock clearing that has been used in the past to land helicopters. This point is about 3 miles and 1,500 vertical feet across rugged terrain from the trailhead.

When the helicopter arrived on scene they determined that they would transport 2 of the subjects to the Cinder Pit Helispot on the KT road, and then return for the third patient who they would transport to the regional medical center. A seperate SAR team was at the Cinder Pit Helispot to transport the subjects to their vehicles and assist with helicopter operations. The fourth person requesting evacuation decided that they would be able to hike out on their own.

After the medical ship finished their operation the rescue team hiked the rest of the party out of the Subway approach route. The team reached the Wildcat Canyon trailhead at about 7:30pm

Lessons learned: The Subway is not an easy hike. Good physical fitness is required for a successful trip. This route is often underestimated with very serious consequences. Do not rely on GPS. The area is small and complex; if you are 30 feet off from the route you can be going the wrong direction. The further you get down in the canyon the fewer satellites you will acquire making the GPS unreliable. Also you cannot draw a straight line between way points and follow it, cliffs and steep drainages get in the way. A written description, photos of the route, and a map are preferable to GPS.

Helicopter, Water, Search and Rescue, Subway, Shorthaul, Dehydration, Canyoneering, Overnight

Last updated: September 16, 2016

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