Last week was declared National Search and Rescue Week by the US Senate. We kicked it off Sunday night with an exciting rescue just outside Timpanogos Cave National Monument up American Fork Canyon.
Three men in their 20’s went hiking up the extremely steep, rocky, precarious AF canyon, then decided to hike back down. They downclimbed a 200′ cliff that was a big mistake for two reasons: they could have fallen to their deaths, and once they reached the bottom, they couldn’t get down the next 200′.
So they called 911. Good call. It’s easier to walk people out than carry them.
We got paged out around 7:30 p.m. I was assigned team leader for the top team, and I picked three other members of the Singletrack Special Team – Bryan, Jake and David. This was partially because Jake is a ranger and read in the manual this week that certified motorcycle riders from another agency can use the NPS motorcycles in an emergency.
So up we went, up the cave trail on the Kowasaki and Honda ~110 cc minibikes. We drove to Dead Dog point, almost to the cave, parked the bikes, and started hiking. We crossed steep snowfields, loose scree, climbed up and down cliffs, and finally, guided by teams on the road and across the canyon, came in right above our victims.
We rappelled 200′ to them and lowered them another 200′ to waiting teams below, who walked them to the road. Several times, such massive rockfall tumbled down the mountain that the sound echoed through the canyon. We made sure everyone was clear before dislodging anything, and other than some scrapes and a few bruises, no one was injured.
The last of us got back down to the highway by 2:15 a.m.
On Wednesday, the pager went off again, again at Timp Cave. Many of us wondered if it was a mistake, but it wasn’t. An 11-year-old girl had accidentally stepped off the trail and fallen about 50′, then tumbled down steep scree a ways farther.
Along with NPS and Alpine Fire, we packaged her up and brought her back up to the trail, then down to a waiting Life Flight helicopter.
So far, National SAR Week was going great.
Thursday, the pager went off again, and again to the cave. Some SAR members didn’t even check the radio, assuming this time it HAD to be a mistake. No such luck.
A maintenance ranger had driven a motorcycle off a 40′ cliff. The bike stopped another 50′ down the hill against small trees, but the ranger did not. He went another 300′ to the same steep, narrow, rock-filled gulley where the Russian had fallen several years earlier.
Again, I was put in charge of the advance team, and we climbed a steep snowfield, bringing helmets, water, jackets and harnesses to the rangers who had immediately hurried up the ravine in case the ranger was still alive. The operation slowed considerably once it was verified that he was not.
Other SAR members brought up a stokes and additional gear, and we packaged and lowered the ranger down the mountain to where his family had gathered below.
This ranger had a reputation for making you feel like you were his best friend every time he spoke with you. He sounds worth knowing, but in this case, I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I could shift into rescue mode, get the job done, and not think too much about the loss that everyone around us was feeling so deeply.
National SAR week ended as six of us returned once more the next day to retrieve the motorcycle and gather any additional photos and clues for the sheriff’s report.
Here’s the part where I say something about how great SAR is, but anything I think of sounds trite compared to the actual stories I’ve participated in over the past ten and a half years. I’ll simply say this: it matters, and I’m lucky to be a member of our outstanding team of volunteers.