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Contact: John Marciano, (435) 772-7848
SPRINGDALE, UT – Spring has sprung, and so has visitation to Zion National Park. Visitation hit record numbers again in January and February. In recent years, the Park has also seen an increase in searches and rescues. One earlier in the month serves as a good example of a preventable incident. The Zion Search and Rescue Team, along with partners Rockville-Springdale Fire were called out Saturday night, March 17, 2018 for what became a lifesaving event.
A team of 16 Search and Rescue, Fire and EMS personnel responded to calls for help coming from Pine Creek slot canyon. Eight canyoneers, wet, borderline hypothermic and too tired to continue began yelling for help after they had made it through about half of the technical slot canyon. Two members of the party eventually found the strength to finish the slot and go for help. Once rescuers reached them, it was discovered the group was poorly equipped for canyoneering at this time of year. The eight individuals had inadequate footwear, gloves and should have been wearing insulated dry suits rather than the 3mm “farmer John” wetsuits for traversing the ice-cold pools of water in the slot. To complicate matters, a heavy snow storm rolled into the area, bringing sub-freezing temperatures and causing Pine Creek to flash flood.
The technical rescue SAR team worked through the night, under the trying conditions, to extract each patient one at a time using ropes and pulleys. Zion’s Chief Park Ranger, Daniel Fagergren remarked, “There is little doubt in my mind that we saved lives that night. Hypothermia is a real threat in slot canyons, even during the summer months because the trapped water never sees the light of day. You can imagine how cold this group was, given the time of year, the drop in temperature, the blizzard like conditions and not being prepared.”
This incident serves as a good reminder for all visitors to Zion National Park to seek out reliable sources of information prior to their trip. The Visitors Center or Park website are good places to start. Check the weather, speak with Park staff, have the appropriate equipment for whatever activities you have planned, familiarize yourself with the terrain and route, and know your own capabilities and limitations.