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Rescue in Central Arizona 12/18-19/2017

Discussion in 'Accidents and Near Misses' started by ratagonia, Dec 19, 2017.

  1. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Location:
    Mount Carmel, Utah
    Central Arizona Mountain Rescue Association
    2 hrs ·
    Mission Update/Report: Around 6:50 pm Monday night we were activated as the MCSO Mountain Rescue Posse for two canyoneers stuck on a ledge of a 550 ft cliff wall about 200 ft above the ground in the Fish Creek area of the Superstitions.

    Around Noon on Monday, two canyoneers were attempting to descend a technical canyon near Fish Creek. The cliff wall they were rappelling down requires being completed in multiple sections (i.e., rappel down a section, pull the ropes, set up for rappelling the next section below, and so on). At one section that was still about 200ft above the ground, their ropes became stuck above them and terrain prevented them from climbing back up. The canyoneers were on a small ledge that provided them a safe location to wait for rescue. However, they did not have cell phone coverage in that remote area.

    Luckily, they were able to get the attention of a car passing nearby, the driver was then able to get to an area with cell phone coverage to call 911.

    The MCSO helicopter was able to spot the canyoneers and inserted about a dozen team members to the top of the cliff. From there the team set up a technical rope rescue system on the 550 ft cliff to access the canyoneers and lower them to the ground.

    While overall the canyoneers were fine, they had not been prepared to be out after dark, and the temperature dropped to around 40 degrees by 11 pm. They were extremely cold and our rescuers gave them warm clothing once we made contact.

    The canyoneers were safely back to the road shortly after midnight and all team members out by 1:00 am.

    Takeaways:
    1) Always leave a detailed plan of your route with a responsible person who can notify 911 if you have not returned by your scheduled time.
    2) Cell phones are great tools, but relying solely on them for emergency notification/communication is not recommended. A PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), Satelite communicator, Ham radio or some other form of communication should be considered in remote areas with spotty/no cell coverage.
    3) Always bring extra clothing for unexpected weather or a delay in your itinerary.

    Link on Facebook
    Austin Farnworth likes this.
  2. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    Glad every one is okay. Thanks for sharing.

    I draw at least one different takeaway.

    1) Learn how to ascend a rope if you're going to be canyoneering. Ropes get stuck all the time. This shouldn't be an unexpected event. It is GOING TO HAPPEN to you at some point. Know how to deal with it.
    2) Taking only the minimum amount of rope needed to complete a canyon is risky. Better to enlarge your group so carrying more rope isn't a big deal.
    Erin, Kuenn and Dave Melton like this.
  3. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    to which I would add:

    3) bringing more ropes, spare ropes, is much more important in winter, when the forced bivy will be much less pleasant.

    T
    Dave Melton likes this.
  4. pyle762

    pyle762

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    Sounds like Zig Zag, which is not really a canyon but a rappel route down the side of a cliff.
  5. townsend

    townsend

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    How bout: bring extra rope (if at all possible). You'l never know you need it til you do.

    I recognize that they couldn't climb back up, but did they not have ascending gear, for just such an emergency (recognizing that ascending a stuck rope is a dicey proposition)?
  6. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    I don't think that is the right way to characterize the problem.

    Sometimes climbing the rope is safe, because the anchor is still secure. The rest of the time it is not. Then there is a very slim slice inbetween where taking the risk may be worth it.

    I would rather these guys did not climb the rope when it was pretty much safe to do so; than if they went ahead and tried to climb the rope when it was not really safe.

    (Personal experience: I climbed the rope in Yosemite once when it was not really safe to do so. With another party coming along behind us that could have freed our rope. The Gods let me get away with that one... would they let me get away with another???)

    Tom
  7. townsend

    townsend

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    I was taught to bring 3x the longest rappel:
    1) rope 1 -- for rappel;
    2) rope 2 -- to serve as pull cord (could be a 6mm accessory cord)
    3) rope 3 -- for rescue/emergency/backup (should your primary cord suffer a core shot, etc.)

    I did not recommend that they reascend the line -- I only asked if they carried ascending gear. If the anchor was still secure, then they had that option, but only if they brought ascending gear. I agree -- it may still not have been worth it (as you pointed out, rarely is). But there's no penalty for carrying the extra equipment (even if they didn't use it).

    Scott
  8. Taylor

    Taylor

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    My takeaway: nice work MCSO.
    Fiona and EvergreenDean like this.
  9. pyle762

    pyle762

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  10. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Location:
    Mount Carmel, Utah
    Robert Loewen
    December 20, 2017 at 10:19pm
    Ok, this is going to be a long post but it's about the scariest moment of our lives so.......here goes! On Monday Kristy and I planned on doing a couple of canyons in the Superstition Mountains outside of Phoenix. We researched a ton and decided on ZigZag canyon and Headdress Canyon. We packed our gear including two 230' lengths of rope and rescue equipment, food, and water and took off. We parked at the end of ZigZag canyon and hiked 2.5 miles to the trailhead. Off we went and found what should have been the drop in point for ZigZag and trekked our way through the bush and over the boulders and found the mouth of the waterfall. Looking down there was our car so everything looked good. It was supposed to be a multi-stage rappel of 650+ feet and that looked about right. The only problem was, there were no anchor points anywhere. Checked all over and nothing. I figured that someone had probably removed the anchors for a safety reason. Ok, so we hiked out and back to the trail.

    We talked about either going to Headdress or a little further down this trail was Minnow canyon. It was only 1 rappel of 170' but we're here and it's supposed to finish near our car as well. So that's where we went. We hiked about another half mile and found the canyon drop in point. In we went, lots of thick brush, boulders, and scrambling up and over things. Finally we came to the washover point of the waterfall, looked down and there was the car. And, there was the anchor we were looking for to start down. I looked down and it seemed to be much more than 170' but I because of sloping I couldn't tell just how far we'd need to get to before we could climb down. I tied in and over I went.

    As I cleared the slope I saw multiple anchor stages and realized that this was actually ZigZag. Fine, we planned for this canyon. I got to stage 2 and tethered my daisy chain to the anchor and called Kristy down. She met me at the anchor station and carabinered in. This is where the problems started. Now is where we would simply pull our rope down and rope into this anchor and continue down. Problem was I pulled on one of the ropes and nothing. Try the other one, nothing. Try shaking them loose and put my full weight onto each one and nothing. Oh crap!! Now I've got to get the ascenders out to rescue climb up and try and free the ropes.

    Ascenders are grips that you attach to the rope that slide up the rope and bite in so they don't go down. You then attach the top one to your harness and the bottom one to your harness as well as a foot strap. You then sit in your harness, lift your strapped leg up with it's ascender, bite in, stand up with that one leg and reach with your top hand as high as you can so that ascender bites in. You then sit in your harness, lift your leg, stand up, reach, and repeat. Again, and again, and again.

    I was able to rescue climb up about 75' above Kristy but here I was free hanging as the rock caved inwards and my top ascender was blocked by 9" of a ledge that I can't get over. I couldn't get any leverage with my feet to try and pop my ascender over the ledge. Now I'm stuck tied onto my ascenders hanging there 500' above the ground and I can't go any higher because of the ledge but I can't go down because well, ascenders don't allow you to! Now I panic. I've gotta transfer to the other rope and if I undo one wrong connection, I fall to my death. I looped the rope through my belay on my harness, lock tied it around my thigh, and tried to figure out how to get off of my ascenders. I couldn't get any slack on the rope because of my weight so I had to cut away the slings that connected me to them and leave them there and pray I didn't drop. Cut. My thigh lock held and I was good. I unwrapped the rope from my leg and rappelled down to Kristy. Now we're back to square one. Anchored in and can't get our ropes down.

    BTW....yes we checked and neither of us had any cell reception. Our only option now is to cut our rope and pray we have enough left to allow us to continue down. I cut them, tied them together giving me about 120' total and we were able to rappel down to the next ledge and anchor station. Now there's a car at the bottom watching us. I yelled down as I looped the rope through this anchor and asked the guy if my rope was close to the fourth stage anchor. Nope. I looked and saw a ledge down 100+ feet and asked the guy if we got to that ledge did it look climbable from there. He said it looked possible. Difficult but possible. I kept looking and saw a single anchor bolted about 10' below us and at this point every foot counts. I rappelled down to it and anchored in and Kristy followed. I pulled our rope and the plan was to permanently tie into this anchor and get to that ledge and hope it's climbable. It's freezing cold and we're highly stressed and panicking, and I'm trying to feed my rope through while trying to reassure Kristy and next thing I know the rope is gone! F^(K ME!!! I look around and it dropped and is sitting on a rock 30' below with no way of getting it.

    Now we're both clipped into 1 anchor on the side of a mountain hanging 250+ feet up in upper 30s temp with no rope and the sun is down and darkness is coming quick. I yelled to the guy to go get Mountain Rescue, we're stuck and have no rope. We're on ZigZag at Fish Creek Bridge. He leaves at 6:15pm. After about 30 minutes real panic and shock is a real concern so I look up and see the anchor on the ledge 10' above us. I took all of my slings, daisy chain, and carabiners and connected them all together to gain about 8' of tether. I rock climbed up to the ledge and was able to pull Kristy up.

    Now we're on a good sized ledge with a solid anchor, some food and water but we've got 2 long sleeves, pants, rappel gloves and that's it for a temp that keeps dropping. We checked later and the temp in the canyon was going down to 35. We wouldn't survive the night if nobody comes. A couple of cars drove through and I tried signalling with my headlamp to no avail. We're huddled up against the rock wall using our packs as windbreaks to try and conserve heat. Yes it crossed our minds about what to say to the kids in a video in case we didn't make it. 2 Hours later, at 8:15pm 2 cars came zipping around the bend and down the road. I flashed my headlamp and the back vehicle shut his headlights off and shined a spotlight on us. YES!!! It was the Sheriff Dept and the guy who went for help!!!! He stopped at the bottom and yelled to us asking if we were ok, any injuries, secured and in a safe spot. Yes, no, yes, and yes. Just FREEZING!! He said that he has called and Mountain Rescue is on their way with a chopper.

    Outstanding!! We're getting out of here. Thank GOD!! Now we remember everything that we read when we did the Grand Canyon - "If you get yourself into a situation where we have to come and get you we will bill you for it and it will be for tens of thousands of dollars." So be it. We're alive. Sore, battered, bruised, and lost some gear, but no major injuries and alive. The chopper flew in, made several passes, dropped to our level, took off, came back, left, came back, again, and again. Eventually the Sheriff yelled that they were dropping 2 rescuers off at the top and they were coming down to us. Around 10pm they started coming down. We cannot say enough good things about Spencer (not my baboon from South Africa) and Russ from the Mountain Rescue Team. They were amazing. Russ brought Kristy down the remaining 250'. While they were on their way down I was talking with Spencer and said "I'm so sorry we got you out here this late. I've been replaying everything trying to think of what we could have done differently." He said that there was nothing we could have done. We were exactly what their team was created for. "You guys obviously know what you're doing, you're experienced, we saw your gear, your anchors. You just caught some bad luck. It happens to us all. One of the guys up top right now had to get rescued and then he joined the team. What we hate is people that do 1 rappel on an excursion in Mexico and think they can tackle this." It set my mind at ease a bit but it really relieved me when he said "When we get down the Deputy is going to take down your information. Don't worry, there's no citation or charge for this." I almost fainted!! Eventually Russ and Kristy got down and Spencer and I followed. At 11:45pm we were both at the bottom safe with the car. It was a long, scary night but we will get back out there again. We probably won't do any multi-stage rappels for a while but we will get back out there. We've learned a few things, like no matter how long you think you're going to be, pack for cold just in case and will take this info to heart moving forward. We're eternally grateful to the good Samaritan that went and got help for us. Sadly he wasn't there when we finally got down to thank him. We're grateful to Kristy's sister Lesa and her husband Griff who knew where we were going and when we didn't return at a reasonable hour started calling 911 to initiate a search. Thanks to Maricopa Sheriffs Deputy Kelly who kept us updated and under a spotlight. And a huge thanks again to the Maricopa County Mountain Rescue Team for coming to get us off the cliff!! And finally, I have a feeling that dad was watching over us so thanks dad!! So there you have it! Our brush with death!!
  11. townsend

    townsend

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    Tom,

    I do not use Facebook and couldn't access the text -- thanks for posting this. A cautionary tale. It underscores how important navigation is, in addition to other lessons we can learn. Glad they are okay.

    Scott
  12. Mike Zampino

    Mike Zampino Canyon season never ends.

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    They had ascending gear and I heard both ends of the rope were secured before he ascended. Having ascenders is one thing. Knowing how to use them is another. And knowing how to transition...well that was scary reading that part about cutting the slings that were tied to his harness.
    Rapterman likes this.
  13. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    I have created a new, separate thread for lessons learned. Let's do the analysis over there.

    Tom
  14. Taylor

    Taylor

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    Good story. We did Minnow a few years ago while my wife and I were down there for our annual Christmas-New Years trip. It was fun and easy.
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