Falling ice injures man, snowstorm strands hikers in Zion Park

Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah, Dec. 24, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Zion National Park via Facebook, St. George News

ZION NATIONAL PARK – Three incidents in two days kept Zion National Park staff and search and rescue teams busy over the Christmas holiday.

One man was injured by falling ice, two hikers were stranded overnight in deep snow in the Zion Park backcountry and a woman got lost as well.

Zion National Park warns the public to be cautious of ice on trails and the inherent risk associated with it, especially on trails with permanent water features. This image was shot Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, at the Emerald Pools trail below the waterfall, Zion National Park | Photo courtesy of Cadence Chinle Cook, Zion National Park via Facebook, Dec. 20, 2016, St. George News
Zion National Park warns the public to be cautious of ice on trails and the inherent risk associated with it, especially on trails with permanent water features. This image was shot Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, at the Emerald Pools trail below the waterfall, Zion National Park | Photo courtesy of Cadence Chinle Cook, Zion National Park via Facebook, Dec. 20, 2016, St. George News

The first incident involved a male hiker between 40 and 50 years old who was struck in the head by falling ice in Refrigerator Canyon on Christmas Day, park spokesman John Marciano said.

The man was hiking with a relative near Angels Landing when the incident occurred.

Search and rescue team members hiked up to the man, treated him at the scene and helped him down to a waiting ambulance, which transported him to Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George.

“He was delusional and had concussion symptoms and a small chunk out of his skull from the ice popping him in the head,” Marciano said.

The man was Asian and although he was from Maryland he spoke broken English, which complicated the situation, Marciano said.

“He didn’t speak really good English, so communication was a little difficult,” Marciano said.

While one search and rescue team was helping the man who was struck by ice, another team was hiking up to help two men stranded by snow on the West Rim Trail.

The two California men, ages 26 and 27, were about six hours out on the West Rim Trail and became trapped by the storm that hit the area.

“And they were aware of the storm that was coming in,” Marciano said. “They didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal, they thought they could handle it, deal with it.”

The two men planned to spend the night on the trail but were not prepared for the conditions that occurred, Marciano said.

“They didn’t have snowshoes, they didn’t have traction devices.”

The two contacted park staff around 7 p.m. Sunday, Marciano said, but after it was clear the men would survive the night, they were told to hunker down and await rescuers.

“It was getting so late there was no way we were going to get up there and do anything for them,” Marciano said.

“They woke up in the morning to 2 feet of snow and, in some areas, 5-foot drifts on the trail and in the area,” Marciano said. “They weren’t prepared for it.”

“They were ‘poling’ it, you know. They’d stick a pole down and take a step.”

The Great White Throne in Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah, Dec. 24, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Zion National Park via Facebook, St. George News
The Great White Throne in Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah, Dec. 24, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Zion National Park via Facebook, St. George News

The search and rescue team started Monday at 6 a.m. wearing snowshoes and avalanche beacons and carrying shovels. The team hiked four or five hours to reach the stranded hikers.

The two men had cold weather gear and a tent, or they’d likely be dead, Marciano said, but were out of food and fuel.

After checking the two hikers’ health, the search and rescue crews assessed the situation.

“When they got there, the avalanche potential was so high, they had to call in a helicopter from the Grand Canyon to come in and get these guys,” Marciano said.

After calling a helicopter, rescuers had to find a suitable landing spot. Eventually, the hikers and the search and rescuer team were all flown down to safety.

The two hikers were ticketed for causing a threatening situation and failing to get a permit – a total of $600-$700, Marciano said.

“We didn’t even know they were there, and that’s one of the biggest reasons we ask for permits, so we know who’s there and we can make sure we have accountability,” he added.

Yet another call came in Monday afternoon of a woman who was four hours overdue from a hike, Marciano said. The woman had started out on a 15-minute hike to Weeping Rock.

“She obviously got disoriented and went the wrong way,” he said.

She was believed to have taken the wrong trail and headed for either Observation Point or Hidden Canyon trail.

Marciano said the woman called her father in California after she became lost.

Her dad told her to ‘turn around, just go back,’” Marciano said. “So she turned around.”

The woman was able to find her way back on her own.

The park does everything it can to provide information about conditions at the park through its website, social media, the visitor center, park staff and the permitting process, Marciano said.

“What we want hikers to do is just to know what conditions are before they go,” he said.

Visitors should be prepared: Wear appropriate clothing, bring food and water and also traction devices for the higher, shady trails where ice is common in the winter.

“Be prepared, know the conditions, don’t go beyond your capabilities,” Marciano said. “Just be prepared, think through it.”

Zion Canyon received several inches of snow from the storms that struck late last week; much more fell in the higher elevations.

Snow and ice closed some roads; Zion Canyon Scenic Drive was closed Monday morning but reopened before noon.

Kolob Scenic Drive was closed Monday with 6-8 inches of snow on the road and drifts up to a foot, according to the Park’s Facebook page.

The road will likely remain closed Tuesday, according to park staff. For more information, call Zion National Park at telephone 435-772-3256.

This report is based on preliminary information provided by law enforcement or other emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

Posted in Life, Local, NewsTagged , , , , , , ,

3 Comments

  • .... December 26, 2016 at 10:39 pm

    People need to be aware of the weather conditions and have knowledge of proper hiking habits and consider what time of year it is. and once again our SAR teams have gone to extreme measure to assist people that just had no business being out there in the first place.

  • paul December 27, 2016 at 8:42 am

    You rescue team rock,,, thank god for you guys

  • erichui January 27, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    My brother is the asian man from Maryland, so I did want to clarify some of the facts. He was born and raised in Maryland and his English is as good as any American born person. The head trauma was the factor in his inability to communicate. He was with his wife and son, who are both fluent in English. His wife is in fact a medical doctor, who treated his injury while they waited for the rescue team. Based upon what I have learned, her treatment was critical to my brother’s survival. It was a freak accident that could not have been foreseen or prevented.

    I do believe that my brother was very, very lucky. My sister in-law was able to stop the bleeding of his head trauma, which was critical to stabilizing his condition before the SAR team could reach him. I’m still fuzzy on the circumstances as to how the SAR team was informed of his needs, however I’m extremely thankful that they were able to evacuate him to safety. My understanding is that it took the team about 90 minutes to reach him and another 90 minutes to bring him down the mountain.

    I’ve personally enjoyed hiking in the back-country and have been cognizant of the risks. While care can be taken, I believe this is a situation that could not be expected… what are the chances that someone is in just the right place to be stuck by falling ice?

    I do want to express extreme gratitude to the SAR team for rescuing my brother. I have seen some pictures captured by my sister in-law and can appreciate that it wasn’t an easy rescue.

    As a last note, my brother has been recovering nicely. This article doesn’t capture the severity of the head trauma… it was significant. However, my brother is doing as well as can be expected and has recovered his full mental acuity.

    Thanks again to the SAR team. I never thought that I’d need them, but in unexpected situations like this I am grateful that someone had the forethought to keep these skilled teams ready and available.

Leave a Reply