Canyon Tales
Heaps of Fun
by Tom Jones

Zion National Park News Release
June 2 , 2006
David Eaker 435-772-7811

• Three Hikers Rescued from Heaps Canyon
in Zion National Park •

Three overdue hikers, canyoneering in the backcountry of Zion National Park, were located and rescued by park search and rescue teams. The three hikers, Nolan Porter, Ogden, Utah; Nathan Cresswell, Woods Cross, Utah; and Ray Miller, Salt Lake City, Utah were successfully rescued from Heaps Canyon on Friday, June 2, 2006. The hikers apparently entered the wrong canyon when they relied upon Global Positioning Units to find their location instead of maps. They then became stranded when the equipment they had was not sufficient to complete the required rappels. There were no injuries to the rescued hikers.

The three hikers obtained a permit for canyoneering in Behunin Canyon on Wednesday, May 31. They were reported overdue late Wednesday and a hasty search was conducted without locating the hikers. The following day a search team traveled the length of Behunin Canyon but did not locate the three hikers. A Bureau of Land Management helicopter then joined the search and the search area was expanded to include Heaps Canyon to the west of Behunin Canyon . One of the hikers was located in Heaps Canyon and a pack containing food, water, a park radio and a sleeping bag was lowered to him. Through radio conversations, the hiker confirmed that he was uninjured and did not require immediate assistance.

The remaining two hikers were located farther down Heaps Canyon and supplies were also lowered to them. With darkness approaching, search and rescue operations were suspended for the night but resumed on Friday morning. Through radio conversations, the two hikers indicated they wanted to complete the canyoneering route. Additional rope and climbing gear were lowered to them and they successfully completed their descent into the Upper Emerald Pools area on Friday morning.

A park ranger reached the remaining hiker and took him to a location where the helicopter could land. He was then transported by helicopter to Zion Canyon . None of the hikers required medical attention.

Visitors are reminded that hiking, canyoneering, and climbing in the park can be dangerous and should not be underestimated. Good planning, proper equipment, and sound judgment are essential for a safe and successful trip. Hikers should check in with a park ranger about all backcountry routes, leave a good itinerary and contact information in case of emergency, and notify family or friends of their plans and expected completion time. Permits are required for all overnight climbs or hikes in the park, as well as all technical canyoneering routes.

–NPS Press Release–

• Heaps of Fun •
by Tom Jones

—  from an interview with Nathan Cresswell  —
July 2006

Nathan and Ray headed down to Zion for a casual weekend of canyons, Behunin and Spry the likely suspects. Nathan hadn’t been out for quite some time, and this would be his first time really leading the canyon, so he researched both canyons and printed out maps from the internet. He used both Kelsey’s book and Tom’s online guide, and had picked out GPS points on the map himself.

In the permit line, they ran into Nolan, a friend of a friend who was going to solo Pine Creek or something.

‘Come with us,’ they said.

‘OK,’ said Nolan.

They headed up the trail, and got to talking, and before they knew it, were at the West Rim Spring. Nathan pulled out the map and the GPS, and they continued on up the Rim Trail. The GPS points weren’t really close, but they kinda made sense. They cut down a ridge and could see the big streaked wall they remembered from the website it didn’t seem quite right but close enough. Soon they found a tree with a sling around it and rapped on in.

Raps and downclimbs led down an impressive steep canyon. Sort of right, but About half way down, it began to dawn on them that this was not the right canyon. Their rappel count was up around 10, and it did not look like the canyon was about to end. Worse, they were starting to run into some pools, and it was getting late. Nolan and Ray swam a longish pool while Nathan cut around and rapped from a tree. That pretty much did Nolan in, as he was getting stumbly and hypothermic. They cleared the crossroads and got to the Long Sandy Corridor, Ray charging ahead while Nathan helped Nolan along.

Part of the consequence of not having a general area map, of just having a small, specific map, was now apparent. They knew they weren’t in Behunin, but where the heck were they? None of them knew the lay of the land well enough to figure out that they were in Heaps, the granddaddy of Zion canyons, the big Kahuna, with long sections of very wet narrows and a 300’ rappel at the end.

As Nathan reached the end of the Long Sandy Corridor and stared into the darkness of the slot, he had a bad feeling. Which was enhanced when he heard Ray calling for help. Ray had started into the wet, dark narrows section without considering the late hour. After sliding into a few waist–deep potholes, he realized this was not going to be a casual evening stroll, but also that he could not reverse some of the moves without help. Nathan and Nolan anchored the rope and sent some ascenders down to Ray, and he climbed and jugged back out.

By now it was quite late, and their meager lunch was but a fond memory. They were starting to get cold, so they found a sheltered spot in the Long Sandy Corridor and lit a small fire to huddle around.

The morning dawned bright and hungry. They climbed back upcanyon a bit to see if they could hike around the deep narrows no dice. At this point, Nolan was pretty much out of it, and did not want to dive into the narrows; Ray was antsy to get going and push through the final narrows to get out; and Nathan was somewhere in between. They agreed the best plan would be to split up Nolan would stay here, with a clear view of the sky, and wait for rescue. He had a lighter to send up a smoke signal if deemed necessary. Ray and Nathan would push on and, when they got out the end, would arrange rescue for Nolan. Should a helicopter come by fairly soon, Nolan could warn them that Ray and Nathan were down in the final narrows.

Nathan and Ray plunged into the narrows, figuring on an hour or so of swimming then they would be out. In a way, they were lucky. Full from winter snow and spring rains, Heaps was in cold but easy condition. They would find many long swims, but none of the difficult pothole exits that might have trapped them later in the summer.

After an hour of swims and downclimbs, with no end in sight, Ray and Nathan knew they were in trouble, and they pushed forward even harder. Nathan credits his survival to those many early–morning practices on the swim team. The thought of just giving up appeared in his mind, but he pushed it firmly away. They persisted, becoming more hypothermic. At one point, after a short rappel, the rope got stuck. Unsticking the rope would have meant swimming back across a pool it seemed wiser to push onward. Eventually they came to a more open section and the canyon relented. Warmer air and dry land beckoned, and they stopped for a rest and to warm up. Late in the day, a helicopter appeared above them and lowered a radio. This is when they found out they were actually in Heaps—the biggest, meanest canyon in Zion.

The radio assured them that they were near the end, and offered to send in a rescue team or to lower gear and assist them in getting out on their own. They realized that getting a rescue team to them would be difficult and dangerous, and with food and warmth, they could manage getting out on their own. Nathan, at least, had completed the 300–foot rappel in Englestead, and so was cautious but not scared of the 300–footer ahead. The helicopter slung them dry suits, sleeping bags, MRE’s and liquids (unfortunately most of the liquid packs burst in the process), but the rest of the stuff, especially the food and sleeping bags, were greatly appreciated.

In the morning, in radio contact with Zion Rescue Team veteran Bo ‘Mr. Heaps’ Beck, they completed the final three rappels, including the 300–foot final free–hanging rap, and carrying out all the stuff lowered to them.

Nathan credits his and Ray’s survival to their good conditioning and swim team experience, but mostly to good luck and their persistence and will to live. They realize that they just barely eked it out, and do not recommend Heaps without wet suits to other canyoneers.

Reported by Tom Jones

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© 2006 Nolan Thomas Jones