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Rangers rescue two overdue canyoneers at Zion National Park

ZION NATIONAL PARK – On Tuesday, Oct. 9, Zion National Park Rangers rescued canyoneers overdue from a hike that began Saturday.  The two visitors, 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.

A helicopter from Grand Canyon was called in for the search. The helicopter crew was able to locate 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.  Some of the canyon’s most difficult obstacles still lay ahead. The crew was able to get a radio to the pair who said that they were not able to complete the canyon without assistance.

On the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 9, 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. While canyon hiking (canyoneering) in Zion can be a challenging and rewarding activity, it is not one that should be entered into lightly.

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  4 Comments
  1. Dghws October 10, 2012 at 11:44 pm · Reply

    Great job NPS Rangers! Too bad you have to spend so much time and money rescuing folks but comforting to know that you are there when needed. Retired Chief Deryl Stone teaches that NPS Rangers have three roles: 1) Protect the Park from the visitors, 2) Protect the visitors from the Park, and 3) Protect the visitors from the visitors. He has something there…

    • Kelli October 11, 2012 at 8:48 am · Reply

      HA! Love the 3 rules :) I did the Narrows recently from top to bottom, and I made it, but it was soooo physically demanding. We had a large group and helped each other out, and I am glad because if there had only been 2 or 3 of us, I’m not sure I would have been able to press on. Zion is no joke!

      • Willbo17 October 11, 2012 at 9:40 am · Reply

        Kelli, I’m glad you were able to enjoy the narrows. I’ve done it myself. Beautiful and Lesiurely. But I’ve also done Heaps (and Imlay, and many others) and I can tell you, comparing the narrows to heaps is not like apples to oranges. It’s more like apple juice to rocket fuel… a tricycle to an F117 Steatlh Fighter. Heaps (and Imlay) can be very dangerous. Also take into account that because it takes so long, and because it gets dark in the canyons very fast, a lot of the journey has to be done in the dark. Hypothermia is a serious concern, especially with regard to potholes. The Ranger is correct: The single greatest danger to people is themselves. There is no substitute for knowledge, experience and common sense.

        • Kelli October 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm · Reply

          HAHA, so noted, Willbo!

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