ST. GEORGE —Three hikers that made their way to the top of the Island in the Sky in Snow Canyon State Park were unable to rappel back down and were later rescued by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Search and Rescue’s high-angle rope rescue team on Friday night.
The call came in to dispatch about 4:30 p.m. reporting the three were stuck on top of Island in the Sky, a steep-walled sandstone butte located in the middle of Snow Canyon State Park.
The caller also provided emergency dispatch with the GPS coordinates to their location, Sgt. Darrell Cashin, Search and Rescue liaison for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, said.
At that point, the high angle ropes team was called in to assist and an incident command center was established at the base of the bluff.
Rescuers soon learned that the trio was able to get to the top of the bluff, but with only 150 feet of rope, “all they could see were these steep drop-offs, and without enough rope, they just couldn’t get back down,” Cashin said.
The stranded hikers, one man and two women visiting the area from Idaho and Colorado, then searched for a safe route to rappel down off the bluff for more than two hours before contacting authorities.
Meanwhile, one of the rescue team members arrived with a drone that was flown to the top of the butte where it captured video of the lost hikers, and the device provided footage and accurate GPS coordinates to the hikers’ location, information that was relayed to the rescuers still making their way to the top.
“That drone footage was a big help in locating those hikers up there,” Cashin said. “We could actually see them and where they were.”
That drone footage, courtesy of Washington County Search and Rescue, can be viewed at the top of this report.
Rescuers made their way to the top of the butte where they located the hikers while a second rescue team made their way up from the northern razorback toward the top of the butte.
Then, using a belay, which is a rope and cleat device fixed to the hiker’s harness and controlled by the rescuer, the trio was lowered down to the rescue team located about half-way up the butte and were able to hike the rest of the way down to the bottom where the staging area was located.
Cashin said the hikers were given sandwiches, as “they hadn’t eaten anything for a long time,” but the group was found well-hydrated and in good health. They also had warm clothing, plenty of water and went into the hike “well prepared,” he said, adding that they called for help before it was dark and provided fairly accurate coordinates to their location, all actions that worked to their advantage.
What happened in this case, he said, is they researched and prepared for the hike to the top of the Island in the Sky, “but nothing on the internet or photos could have prepared them for what they actually encountered when they got up there.”
The formation is steep walled on nearly every side, with little or no easily discernible routes through a labyrinth of stone and ledges with cliffs that drop down more than 500 feet. The top of the formation is not necessarily a vast area, but it is expansive enough that “a hiker could be lost up there for a long time,” he said.
With the hikers safe and on their way to their destination, the rescue team packed up and were on their way home by 9:30 p.m., so the entire operation was completed in about five hours.
“This was our 125th rescue for the year, so we’re down 7 rescues from last year,” Cashin said. “We still have another week to go though, so who knows.”
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