Cheers Bob and company. Long time no post, life has changed quite a bit for me. Ironically, I may have been in the airport at that time as well Bob.
Recipe for stress: Buy a business, move, and get stranded all within 2 weeks and you will have enough stress that you will be borderline vomiting. Not kidding.
Thanks for everybody's positive words. Here is a quick read of the story:
In short, we ended up on the wrong trail and didn't realize it for 1.5 hours. It was adding an extra 10 miles, which is really no big deal for us, except a lot of that was slot canyon. You don't move fast in slot canyons. This was Thursday.
Friday was pretty uneventful. Some very cold swims, me trying to get body heat back by laying in a sleeping bag at the bottom of a slot canyon, us realizing we were starting to get in trouble.
Saturday morning, we woke up to our boots and backpacks frozen. Tough to get motivated for a day of swimming when the first thing you do is lace up frozen hiking boots.
We were pretty well prepared, except there was a lot more swimming than we had planned (remember, we were on the wrong trail). There is only so much swimming that you can do in 42 degree water until you body just says no more.
The swims went from 10 feet to 20, to 20 yards, to 50 yards. After a 75 yard swim, with a very close call, we had to climb out of the water and try to get warm. We had a small “island” in the water about 7 x 7 feet we spent well over an hour walking in circles trying to get warm. It was nicknamed “Survivor Island.” We boiled water and dissolved powdered Gatorade in it to warm up as well (the 3 of us drank most of a large container, lots of calories for heat). After 5 bouts with hypothermia (3 mine), the close call on the last swim, we decided that if we kept going, we would not see home again. Slot canyons are eerily quiet and dark when things are not going well, and this was a big one. Had we realized the amount of water involved, dry suits and climbing gear would have been along on the trip.
We stood on each other shoulders to look down canyon. We could not see the end of the next swim. No way.
Saturday afternoon, I watched one of my best friends free climb a 50 foot cliff, no protection, no ropes, just hands, feet and a lot of positive words. As I started filtering water from the canyon, the other two hauled gear up the cliff to our future perch in a dry bag. Once all the gear was on top, it was time for the remaining two of us to go up. We emptied a backpack and made in improv climbing harness and belay system with a few carabineers. Tied in with 5mm accessory cord, up I went. (note; I am a terrible climber). However, the adrenalin really hit hard once I got to the top and discovered the rigging used to aid me in the event of a fall would have ripped clean out. Freddo brought up the rear on the climb.
On top we had more room that the term “ledge” would have you think. We had enough level room to set up one tent, with the other sloped gently towards the canyon below. All in all, we had a room to walk around, gather firewood, step on countless cactuses, and wait for help. Food was rationed through Wednesday, if we each only took in about 700 calories a day, we always pack extra food, just in case. This was Saturday evening; we were supposed to be done with our hike by now. Amazing what goes through you head in an event like this. The night was cold; I slept in a short sleeve shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a fleece, down jacket, winter hat, long underwear, synthetic down pants and a 15 degree sleeping bag. I was still cold.
Sunday came and went with no sign of help. Airplanes few overhead at 35,000 feet, unaware of our situation below. Brad and I both missed our flights home. We figured by now, we were being missed by family. We slept a lot due to lack of energy. We felt horribly selfish for what loved ones must be going through back home. Another rough night.
Monday came along and more of the same. We gathered more firewood and cut greens from trees to produce smoke. We found we could fill the canyon with smoke in 2 minutes. Brad and Fred hiked around the cliff edge to see if they could find a way out, or at least be more visible from above. We kept a fire going full time for signals. If you are ever in a situation like this, you will find that a fire is one of the most comforting things you can have, it was like an anchor to reality. The three of us were able to keep upbeat and positive.
We were sitting by the fire at about 6:00pm, hopeful for Tuesday’s rescue (remember, you have to keep a positive attitude). Suddenly a helicopter appeared down the canyon! It was a beautiful UHP helicopter! The fire was stoked, branches were thrown on, and smoke came pouring off the fire. No way were we being missed! The helicopter landed on top of the canyon well above us and two men yelled down to confirm we were ok. They left to meet with the rope team and came back to let us know they would be back in the morning, dropped some food and water and left. We ate like kings, no need to ration. The night seemed warmer.
Tuesday AM came, we tore down camp and watched the helicopter shuttle the SAR team in. Two rescuers from the Tropic Volunteer Fire Department rappelled down 400 feet to us to clear a landing zone for the helicopter. We helped clear some brush and dead timber to allow the helicopter to save our butts.
The canyon was only 100-150 feet wide at the point where we were, and the helicopter blades we were told were 60 feet in diameter. Utah Highway Patrol has one amazing pilot on their hands. He came in a put one ski on the side of the cliff and we were told to run straight to the front of the helicopter, get to the door, jump in, slide across, and hold on. The rotor was pretty close to the ground due to the slope of the cliff. One by one they few us out of the canyon, followed by the two rescuers, and hauled all gear up the canyon with ropes. It took until early afternoon to complete the rescue. Three days after we found ourselves on the cliff.
We bought them lunch in Escalante and listened to the debriefing. We were told that we did pretty much everything right that we could but get on the wrong trail. We take full responsibility for getting on the wrong trail and the shuttle service should not be blamed. It was a miscommunication on our behalf.
We will be making a nice donation to the Garfield County Sheriff and Search and Rescue Departments. Some equipment has already been sent to the Tropic Fire Department. If anybody is looking for a charitable organization, may I recommend your local SAR? Most are volunteer and underfunded. Who knows, the butt they save next could be yours.
I feel like I should stress that we do have quite a bit of backcountry hiking experience. While living in Utah, I wore out the soles on 3 pairs of hiking boots one summer. But I probably don’t need to, those of you who know us, know we have spent considerable time in the outdoors.
Wednesday I flew back to Michigan. From the time I turned my cell phone back on when the plane landed, to the time I got to the baggage claim, I received 19 phone calls from the media. How do they get those phone numbers?
What our families went through was terrible. With our free time, we went through the entire chain of events it would take to get us out of there. We counted no less than six different contacts that would call on our behalf if we didn’t show up. Any one of them could have fallen through and a rescue was still probable. None fell through. On BLM land, hiking permits are not required, but offered. We got one. It probably saved our lives. If your hiking, even a day hike, let somebody know where you are going, when you plan to return, and who to call if you don’t return.
I'll be in touch this winter, I'll be back to my old stomping grounds a few times to make turns. I still believe Pocket Rockets suck.