Canyon Tales
Larry Canyon SAR
Group Perspective

Incident in Larry Canyon — December 5-7, 2009

Chung22, Nick Turner (Jaxx) & TNTRebel

—  Account by Chung22  —

We decided to go on one last canyoneering trip before the snow came in and would not allow us to backpack in the beautiful southern Utah slot canyons. My dad and I were very excited about this weekend. We were going to first go to camp in between the Larry Canyon entrance and exit so that we could start from there in the morning.

The voyage down was pretty uneventful. We left Orem around 4 PM on Friday, December 4th. We went to scout out the canyons that we were going to hike. We were going to hike Larry Canyon on Saturday and then the shorter Alcatraz Canyon on Sunday before we left. We drove to the first rappel in Alcatraz and it is supposed to be 165′ tall. It was dark and the rappel looked a lot taller than that. My dad wasn’t too excited about doing that one, but I really, really wanted to do it. It looked scay, but exciting. My dad said that he was going to let me go down and then drive the car around to a shorter rappel and go down there! We finally made it down to our campsite and set everything up at around 1 AM on Saturday, December 5th. By the time that we got everything set up to go to bed we were both very tired and cold. I remember never taking my head out of the sleeping bag because it was too cold to do so.

We were planning on heading out at about 9 AM on Saturday, but we didn’t wake up until about 8:40 AM and still had to eat breakfast. We hurried and just grabbed a couple packets of oatmeal and had to eat it on the way out. We had about a mile and a half hike to the entrance of Larry canyon. It took us about 45 minutes to get there and we started the first rappel around 10 AM. We got down that rappel just fine with no incidents. It was about a 50′ rappel, not too bad.

We were trying to get through the canyon fairly quickly so that we would not have to find the exit at dark. So we booked it through the canyon. There were a few semi–difficult downclimbs. A few of them we found out later were mandatory rappels—oops. The first one was about a 20′ downclimb to a ledge and then another 20′ to the bottom. My dad decided to try and downclimb the first part of it and made it just fine. Then he figured that the second part of it was a little to steep. So I threw him the rope from the top and he rappelled the rest of it. I rappelled the whole thing and met him at the bottom. After that there was some pretty cool slots that we went through. Some were almost too tight to fit through, especially with all of the extra clothes that we had on. A few times we had to get down and crawl to avoid getting stuck in them.

There was one very skinny slot where we had to choose if we wanted to stay up high about 30′ above the floor and scoot across the top or try and get down closer to the bottom and risk getting stuck. We decided to try up high first and then, if it got too scary, we would lower ourselves down and get closer to the bottom. We were able to get past that with no problems either. It was a little scary hanging way above the bottom of the slot, but it was all good. When we started going down to the floor we had to get out our flashlights because it was so dark from the thinness of the canyon and the boulders and wood that were stuck above us from flash floods.

We then came to what was supposed to be the third mandatory rappel. We had to climb about 6′ down to where there was a wedged boulder that was used as the anchor for this rappel. My dad looked down it and looked like only about 20′ to get to the first ledge. There was just a small ledge that you had to land on. On one side of the ledge there was a 3′ deep pothole and on the other side there was a about a 10′ drop with a knotty log in the bottom.

My dad decided that he would be able to downclimb it again with maybe a little difficulty, but he thought he could make it. After he started going down I went down the 6′ drop to start the rappel. He got maybe 5–7′ down and had his left foot against the wall and his right foot hanging down. He didn’t think that he could hold on anymore and slipped and fell about 15′. He landed on the ledge almost going over the 10′ drop but, luckily, was able to grab onto the ledge and not fall over.

I heard him slip and fall so I ran to edge and yelled, “Dad, are you alright!?”

He replied, “I don’t think I broke anything!”

I then heard him say, “Oh, $#@*!!!!” a few times so I asked him what was wrong.

He said, “Kyle, I think I tore my ACL!”

He then told me to rappel that one down for sure. I rappelled down to him and found that he could barely even put weight on it before it would pop out of socket and cause him an immense amount of pain!

There were very few options that we had after that. The one that we decided to do was to try and grab the bars out of the hard frame of his little backpack and try to make a brace with that and some duct tape that he had around a pen in his backpack. The duct tape didn’t work very well so we had to use a bunch of extra webbing that we had to wrap the bars from his frame around the outsides of his knees as a makeshift brace. It actually worked really well as long as it stayed tight. I then took most of the stuff out of his backpack and put it into mine so that he wouldn’t have to carry as much weight on his knee. He then lowered me down the 10′ drop with a handline. Then he came down and stepped onto the backpack as I was holding it up for him. We both got down and then we had to tie another handline onto the log that was wedged in the bottom. We got down the next 20′ with that handline.

The next part of the canyon was pretty tricky for someone who didn’t have an injured knee, let alone my dad. There were quite a few downclimbs and a bunch of boulder hopping. A few of them were kind of scary. I usually went down first to test and see if I could get down without using my right knee. I would then tell him the best way to get down so that he wouldn’t have to use it and I would also help him hold his weight if he needed it. The canyon then cinched up and got really thin. This made it really hard for my dad because there were a few times where we had to crawl on our hands and knees to avoid getting pinched in.

Probably the worst part about the whole thing was the famous left–slant slot. It was about a quarter–mile strip of the canyon that had about a 70 degree left slant for most of it. That was hard on me because it was only about three feet wide most of the way and I had to carry that backpack on just my right shoulder while holding myself up with my left hand for most of the way. This was hard on my dad because he had to put a lot of pressure on the inside of his knee where it hurt the most. It kept popping out of socket. Most of the time he had to either crawl or lay his back against the lower wall and shuffle down the slot that way. We hiked a total of about one mile after he injured his knee.

When that opened up we came to where the last two rappels that were optional but difficult to hike around. When we got to that opening my dad had me go up the downslope on the south side to see if there was a way that we could get out of the canyon there. I went up for about another quarter mile downcanyon and found that the cliff just above us, which was about 50′ tall, hit another cliff (about 300′ tall) in an overhang. It was impossible for me, let alone my dad, to get up. We now had to decide if we wanted to send off a SPOT and call for Search & Rescue or try and hike out as much as we could and then call for help if we were not able to get all the way out. We discussed it for a little while longer and then decided to say a prayer to ask Heavenly Father what we should do. After another little discussion, we decided that we would send a SPOT and try to find somewhere to hunker down.

We started by having me hike to the most open spot and hit the 911 button on our SPOT. We did that at about 3:30–4 PM, Saturday afternoon. We then decided that we needed a bunch of firewood and a place that would protect us from the wind and other weather. We did that for about two hours which took its toll on me. When we were done I didn’t feel like I could move very much more. I wasn’t expecting it to tire me out so much, but we both figured if we had a ton of it then we wouldn’t need it all! While I was doing that, Dad helped out as much as he could but he couldn’t carry all that much especially going up the sloped side of the canyon. So he went and found a place that would work well for us to hunker down. It was a nook that was about 8′ into the canyon wall and had a little hill of sand and rock that protected us from the weather. So he and I dragged all of the wood over there, which we finally finished at around 5:30 PM. After we were done with that, we decided to build a little wall out of rocks and sand on the southwestern side of our nook to block any of the wind that would come upcanyon. That only took about 15 minutes and then we laid out where we were going to sleep that night.

We decided then to break a bunch of the sticks up so that we could put them into the fire a lot easier. We were also waiting to start the fire until we absolutely needed it to make sure that we had enough to last us the night. We started off having a little Indian fire and then decided that we had enough would to upgrade to a bigger cowboy fire. My dad then took off his brace and we talked about what was going to happen and what our options were. After a little while, I went back over to the spot to check on it. I found that the SPOT was blinking red on the 911 side and green on the “Okay” side. My dad and I both thought that the blinking red meant that it was not able to send it off. So I went back, moved the SPOT, turned it off, then turned it back on, and hit the 911 again. We then just chilled for a little while and kept the fire going. I went and checked the SPOT every now and then and kept hitting the 911 button. We thought that since it kept blinking red it didn’t ever send. After about 10 PM, we decided to just leave it out there until morning and if it was still blinking like that then we would have to try and get ourselves out—that was a pretty dire thought because my dad’s knee was just throbbing after we took the brace off of it.

We tried to get some rest that night because if we had to get out of there on our own we would need our rest to get out of there. We took turns keeping the fire going while the other got some sleep. The most sleep that we could get at a time was maybe 20–30 minutes at a time. The most that I got was about an hour. The only food that we had to eat was beef jerky and a bunch of granola bars. It was not very much, but it was enough to at least keep us from being uncomfortable. We also brought about 96 oz of water each in with us. Which would only last about two days if used sparingly. It was at about 1 AM on Sunday my dad and I were both awake at this moment and all of the sudden I saw a very bright light shine on the opposite side of the canyon (northeastern)! I jumped up and started whistling as loud as I could! I then heard a whistle in response to mine. The feeling that was going through me was the most relieved and exhilarating feeling that I have ever had. Someone was there and it was the SPOT that had sent the message off.

I heard them yell, “Are you guys okay?”

I responded, “We were warm by the fire, but running a little low on water.”

He then said, “Kyle, how is your dad?”

I had no idea how he knew my name, but I replied, “I think that he tore his ACL and he can’t really put any weight on it! Are you SAR (Search & Rescue)?”

Then they replied, “It’s Nick and Chad!” (my brother and brother–in–law) and that they received a call from SPOT saying that they received a 911 message from their SPOT. So they headed down to find the coordinates from where the SPOT had come and it lead them directly to us! When they said that is was Nick and Chad I just had another rush of relief! I can’t even describe how ecstatic I was!! Nick and Chad are very experienced and practical canyoneerers and having them there was like having SAR there. They said that they had a bunch of food and water there for us if we would like and some extra clothing, but we told them that we can easily last the night with all that we brought. They then mentioned that they crossed paths with SAR on their way in, and SAR was just heading out after having checked the trail head for Larry Canyon and found no vehicle so they headed out and there was nothing that they could do until morning. Nick and Chad then told us that SAR was planning on coming out the next morning about 5 AM.

Nick and Chad then decided that they would go back to camp and then wait for SAR to come back. He told us that they were going to be back around five in the morning and then start rappelling down to us. We then decided that we would also try to get some sleep because no matter what they did it would be tiring for us.

We both got maybe two and half to three hours of restless sleep. We were fairly comfortable, but the problem was that the temperature got down to about 18 degrees that night and the rock and sand that we had to sleep on was just freezing cold. So the half of our body that was in the air was pretty warm from the fire, but the part that was touching the rock was very cold. That is what usually woke me up. At about seven that morning we were both awake and we were not able to go back to sleep. We waited there until about 10 AM when we finally heard SAR coming down the cliff to meet us there. It took them a couple of hours to get down to us, while my dad and I were just waiting for them. They finally got down to us at about 2–2:30 PM and started assessing the damage. They had a very nice vacuum brace that they were able to use to immobilize my dad’s knee. They then called to have Life Flight take him out of there. They said that it would take Life Flight about 2 hours to get him out of there. So we just carried my dad to where they could fly in and get him out of there. We talked with the SAR for a while and they were pretty cool people. There were six of them total that came down to get us. They were: Travis, Don, Mark, Tom, Rayston, and John (I am not 100% sure on some of those names). It was pretty cool to get to know them for a little while.

They only brought down their canyoneering and rappelling gear, and some medical stuff they had. Another thing they brought was an emergency litter that was just in case they had to carry my dad out of the canyon in it. They ended up not needing it, but then we didn’t know what to do with it. After the heli came in and took my dad out at about 4:45 PM it was almost dark. We were mostly hoping as well that Life Flight would wait for us to find some place that they could land and come pick us up further down the canyon. We were hoping that the heli would be able to come back and grab that emergency litter so that we wouldn’t have to carry it out with us. They told us that they could absolutely not take it out because it was against their regulations to do so. We were hoping that they could at least take that litter out if not us, but like the litter they said they couldn’t come get any of us either. We then realized that we would have to hike out of the canyon on our own and at dark.

We started by going down the two rappels that were left in the canyon. The first one was about 70′ and not too bad to get down. We started by lowering the emergency litter, which took a while considering that it weighed about 120 lbs with all the packs that were in it. I had to use a figure 8 as a descender, which I had never used before so I was pretty nervous. I had to use it because the rope that we were using was about ½′′ (13mm) thick. Once we all got down the first rappel it was pretty much dark and we still had another 90′ rappel to do in the dark. If you are a canyoneerer then you know that rappelling any height at dark is very dangerous, but luckily we all made it down just fine.

We then split up the packs that were in the emergency litter to lighten the load a bit. We got down to about 80lbs after that. The only water that we had was maybe three full Gatorade bottles and the left over water that I had. The only food that any of us had was about 8 oz of beef jerky that I had and a few granola bars from my dad and I and a few sweets, such as: ½ lb of Swedish Fish, 20 or so cream savers and some gummies that I had left over. The SAR unfortunately hadn’t brought any down with them because they thought first of all that it was going to be an in and out kind of a thing and second that Life Flight would be picking us up soon after we reached the bottom.

The hike to the exit was about 2 miles ahead of us. After we learned that Life Flight was not going to come get us anymore, we realized that we were going to have to find that exit crack and get out of it. If any of you have ever hiked Larry canyon before you know how dang hard it is to find that exit crack during the day if you have already done it before. Now for us: None of us had ever done this canyon before. I had 4 headlights and the SAR didn’t bring any down. It was dark, and we had to carry that dang litter with us. Now to try and find that crack exit was a near impossible feat for us. We only had four lights for the seven of us so we tried to keep at least 2–3 on the litter at a time and one ahead scouting the easiest way to get that litter out of the canyon. Another setback was that I had the only GPS out of the group. It was the one that my dad brought and I really didn’t know how to use it very well. On top of that it lasted about 10 minutes and then ran out of batteries. Now you can understand a little better why this would be so hard to find the exit.

We started the hike out. The canyon was probably very beautiful from what I could see. There were some amazing things that we had to climb over which would have been fun during the day and without the worry of maybe having to spend the night again. But for us it was just another obstacle to get over. We rotated carrying the litter usually with a guy on each corner to make it easier on everyone else when the trail permitted it. It was a struggle to keep moving with that thing and all the extra weight that we were carrying. Most of the weight in the litter was contributed by a 600′ rappel rope that was tied in it. Other than that there was really nothing in there, but a few of our helmets (I kept mine on the whole time).

The first big obstacle that we came to was a 30′ drop into a pool of water. We figured that none of us could really get wet and stay warm enough to last the rest of the hike so we had Travis go and explore a little ways ahead to see if there was any possibility of getting around that rappel. We found a little tiny trail that led off on the south downslope. The slope was very steep and ended in about a 25–30′ drop–off. The trail to walk along the slope was maybe a foot to a foot and a half wide most of the way, which meant only two people on the litter at a time and no mistakes because that litters wheel was just wide enough to fit on the trail at times. It was pretty nerve–racking to watch them guide that thing for about a quarter mile down that trail. I am pretty glad that I didn’t have to carry it at that part of the hike.

I was already feeling pretty weak from not sleeping all that much those first two nights there, not having a decent meal in two days, and not having all that much water. I knew that we had to conserve the little that we had, but still drink enough to have the energy to get out of the canyon. After about a quarter mile of walking along the slope we found a little place where we could downclimb and then lower the litter down so that we had about a 15′ cliff instead of a 30′ drop. We tied a bunch of webbing to the litter and lowered it down to Travis who was able to downclimb (maybe fall a little bit) to the river bottom. After that we were then able to wrap a rope around an outcropping and rappel down the rest of the way. The rest of us didn’t want to risk getting hurt and be an extra burden.

After we got down to the river bottom, we were still only about a ½ mile downcanyon from where my dad got lifted out. We had to then continue down the canyon over the rough terrain! From above those last two rappels the riverbed looked fairly easy to traverse, but once you were down at the bottom it was very rough. We had to go over boulders that were quite big and through potholes where we had to carry the litter over them. It was slow progress and we lost radio contact with the SARs that were still on the top for about 2 hours. That was a little scary not really knowing where we were going. We only knew to watch for any flashlights that were on the rim of the canyon to find out how close we were.

We finally regained contact with them and we were able to find out about how much further we had to go to find the exit. We found out that we still had about ¾ of a mile to go. As you can tell, it was very slow moving. We decided to take a little break and take out the little food and water that we had. Everyone was super excited when they learned that I had quite a bit of food left over for them to have. They especially loved the Swedish Fish—they hit the spot. It was something that we all knew the taste of and it helped replenish our electrolytes. There were a few of the SARs that started to complain a little about being tired, thirsty, or sore so I ended up carrying the litter for quite a while because I still had an unprecedented amount of energy left, considering that I had maybe eight hours of total sleep in the last two and half days and not a decent meal since then. I was very willing to carry the litter as much as I could. It made my arm very sore and tired so we switched sides every now and then to switch the pain from one arm to the other.

With about a half mile left to find the exit we ran out of water, but still had a little amount of food left. We asked the sheriff what the best option was for us now and he said that we should go past the exit crack to a known horse trail and get out that way. “It’s about a mile or so past the exit crack” is what he said. We then saw three headlights in the distance—I later learned that this was Nick, Chad, and the sheriff’s son. They were all looking for the exit crack so they could come down it and find us and guide us out of it. We didn’t know that and they didn’t have a radio to contact us. We could hear them yelling, but couldn’t understand what they were saying (I later learned that they had found somewhere that we could get out and were yelling for us to come up to them). I really wish that we would have taken the time to go find out what they were saying. That may have saved us a bunch of grief.

We were all starting to get very tired and took a break about every half hour to regain some energy. All I could keep thinking of was being home with my wife and eating a huge meal. It got harder and harder to get up after every time that we sat down. We saw some headlights in the distance shining off the edge of the canyon. We were really hoping that that was a way to get out. It was the sheriff that was parked there as kind of a guiding light to keep us going. Once we were past him he kept saying that it was only about a mile to the horse trail. I could have sworn that we had already gone a mile past the exit crack, but later found that we had not gone maybe ¾ mile past it when we decided that we needed to take a break, warm up, and make a game plan. There were two groups for the SARs on top that were trying to find a way to us. The one with Nick and Chad had to give up on the exit crack and then go down and try to find the horse trail, which was where the other group was coming down to meet us. While we were stopped there, we found out that the other group was about two miles more downcanyon than we were.

We asked the sheriff if there were any other choppers that could come get us because we had stopped in an area about 100′ from anything (plenty for a heli to land). We started a huge bonfire with all the wood that we were able to find. There was plenty to last us a few hours. We learned that Life Flight from Lehi was coming down to get us. They would be there in about an hour or so. They told both other parties of SAR to head out of the canyon and rendezvous back at the trucks. After they started heading out we learned that the heli had to land in Spanish Fork because of a severe storm in that area. We decided to wait for a few more minutes and make a game plan. We all decided that we needed to keep moving while we still could, but before we were able to get moving we heard that the heli had taken off again, but had to land in Nephi and was not going to be able to take off again that night! Our only options were to spend another miserable night in that canyon with very little food and no water or to try and find a way out. This was at about 10:30 PM.

There was one SAR (and I can’t remember his name) that had to take a medicine to keep from having seizures. He had taken his only dose that he had left early that evening. We were all a little worried about him even though he didn’t need more until about 8–9 AM the next morning. There was another SAR who had an injured ankle and wasn’t too excited about hiking anymore. A few of them were not in the best of shape but very gung–ho about keeping moving. I was very impressed with Don because he was maybe in his mid–to–late 60s and I think that he wasn’t carrying that litter for only maybe 45 minutes total the whole night. Another one that I was impressed with was Travis. He was a very good leader and helped keep our spirits up for the most part. He was very talkative and generally a cheerful person. The other person that I was very impressed with was Mark. He is an ex–navy seal and very professional when it came to helping everyone. He was very kind to me and had a very calm presence about him.

We decided that we would keep going and try to find the horse trail and get out that way. We packed up all our things, which was made difficult for me because of all the lactic acid that had built up in my muscles made them very stiff. We started on the rest of the two miles to the horse trail. We were making pretty good time getting through the riverbed, over all the boulders, and around all the potholes. We then came to a place where there were quite a few potholes that looked very deep and were full of water. That was not a good sign. That means that we may run into more water anytime. That is exactly what happened. We got to about a 60–70′ overhang cliff that had a huge pond in the bottom of it. We tried to find a way around it. We checked on the southwestern end and the northeastern end and they both were huge drop offs that we could not avoid. The feeling of relentless despair was the worst for me there.

My legs were just aching, my back hurt from carrying the litter so much, my mouth was very dry with cottonmouth and my stomach was growling for food. I wanted to just sit there and wait for someone to come get me. I felt like a child that was so dependent on their parent to get them what they needed. The difference was that I tried everything that I could and now had no other option but to rely on others and lot of luck to get all of us out of there unscathed. This was the time where I almost thought about giving up. I even told the SARs that were with me that I didn’t know how much more my legs could take.

They told me that we would be alright and that we would find a way out of there. We then decided to tell the SARs that were on top what our situation was and ask for their advice on what to do. They told us to head back to our fire so that we at least had somewhere to stay warm for the night. So we then started the ½ mile hike back to our fire. It didn’t take us too long to get back there and the sight of the fire still burning was a relief that I didn’t think I would find there. We all decided that we would gather a bunch more wood for the night’s stay and hunker down and try to stay warm until the next morning. One big problem was that it was supposed to snow in that area about 2–4′′ that night. We could see the storm clouds moving in and the northern wind that brought a terrible chill with it. I decided that I would lie down and try to get some sleep.

It was about midnight when we heard the sheriff on the radio tell us that there was a Life Flight from Page, Arizona called the Classic Air Ambulance that was coming to get us. At first I didn’t really believe it even though I really wanted to. This would not have been the first shaft from Life Flight that we had that night. I asked Don and Travis if it was really coming and they both said it was for sure. I wasn’t 100% convinced and didn’t want to get my hopes up too much until I heard the blades so I decided that I was going to get a little sleep either way.

I fell asleep for about an hour on the cold rock and my backpack as my pillow. It was more than I had expected and, when I woke up, they said that the heli was about 15 minutes away and definitely going to make it. I let myself get pretty excited after that and wasn’t able to sleep anymore. About 20 minutes later, we all heard the blades of the heli coming in and then we saw it over to the northwestern end of the canyon where the trucks were parked. It came in toward us and had to check out the surroundings to get an idea of what was going on before it landed. After circling us a few times he took off and landed near the trucks and talked with the sheriff. He turned the heli off, which always means about 45 more minutes for the turbines to cool before he can turn it back on.

The feeling of relief then was so great and I was so calm that I couldn’t believe it. The spirits around the fire were very light and cheerful, like they were when the SAR first came down in. It was very nice to see all the guys so happy. It made me even happier on top of it all. After the long 45–minute wait, the heli came back down and landed a ways away from where we were expecting it to in a smaller part of the opening. The wind from that thing was just amazing! It almost knocked me on my butt and it sent all the sparks from our fire everywhere. It was pretty intense. I am not sure on how fast the wind actually was, but it was maybe 100+ mph. Just like the first time I had to cover my whole face and brace myself against the ground to keep from falling over. I had Burt’s Bees chapstick on and that just made everything worse because the sand caked itself there. That was pretty disgusting to get that off, but that was the least of what I was thinking about. I kept thinking that I was going to be able to see my wife and family again.

Everyone decided that the seizure guy and I would be the first to head out of there. Life Flight could only take two people and their backpacks at a time. So we were the first two to get out of there. The copilot ran over to us and guided us back to the chopper one at a time. I got in first with both my dad’s and my backpacks and then, after we were both in, we took off. It was a very exciting feeling lifting off. It was kind of like going on a roller coaster, the feeling of your stomach going into your throat. It was amazing! Then to get to see where we were from the air and the huge fire from a distance that looked like a small dot was a great ending.

When we landed we had to run out from under the blades hunched over and the co–pilot carried our bags out for us. The first person that I saw was Nick! I was so happy and surprised to see him. I didn’t know they were still there this whole time. I gave him a huge hug and then saw Chad and hugged him as well. I was very close to tears at that point. I then saw my Mom and sister coming toward me. I gave each of them a gigantic hug. We went out of the cold into the GMC Yukon to eat and then I called my wife. She started bawling the second she heard my voice. I kept reassuring her that I was fine, just a little tired, sore, hungry, and thirsty. It was great to finally hear her voice as well. They lifted the rest of us out and we were all out at about 2:30 AM on Monday morning.

We then took off in our vehicles and decided to spend the night in Green River because of the huge storm that was going on in the Spanish Fork Canyon and because we were all so tired that we could barely keep our eyes open. I rode in the Suburban with Nick and Chad. They are pretty hilarious and way fun to ride with. We listened to music way loud; for a little while it was System of a Down and then most of the ride it was 311. We got off the hour–and–a–half long dirt road, and Nick said that he was almost having hallucinations from being so tired. He said that every shadow from the bushes we were passing looked like some kind of animal: chickens, rabbits, squirrels and such. So he and Chad switched for the next hour ride into Green River. We got there at around 4:30 AM. We checked in and hit the hay, but not before we had to switch rooms twice for different reasons.

We woke up the next morning at around 9:30 AM and went down to grab a really good biscuits–and–gravy breakfast. We ate like lions and then headed out. The Spanish Fork Canyon was pretty scary, but, as long as we went kind of slow, it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t sleep at all on the way home. So, in the last four days, I got around 15 hours of sleep but I was too excited to be home to sleep. We got to Orem around 1:00 PM on Monday and I finally got to see my wife at about 1:30 PM! That was just amazing! It is incredible how much an experience like that makes you appreciate the little things in life.

I am indeed very grateful to everyone that helped my dad and me get out of that canyon alright—especially for my concerned family, and all the SAR volunteers that came down to help us, and their families for letting them risk their lives to help complete strangers. I am very indebted to all of them and would like to thank them for their help.

It has taken me a few days to recover from that. I started writing this yesterday (Wednesday, December 9th, 2009) and finished today at work. I was going to go in to work yesterday, but just about fainted when I was getting my breakfast ready at 5:30 AM. I am not sure if it was still because of lack of sleep or if it was because I was still a little dehydrated and malnourished. Either way I am alright now. I am still sore, but doing much better. I woke up, came to work just fine this morning, and have been doing great!

My dad has been recovering and also went into work yesterday because he had some deadlines that needed to be met. We learned that he destroyed his ACL and most likely damaged his MCL very badly. We won’t find out for sure until the MRI comes back with the results, hopefully today. He also has a very large compression fracture that goes the width of his tibia underneath his knee cap. He is doing good though and is extremely grateful to everyone as well and very humbled over the whole thing. I think after this experience we are all going to respect the canyons a little more. We are very indebted as well to the SPOT and all who have made that kind of thing possible.


—  Account by Nick Turner  (Jaxx)  —

I was working on putting up drywall in my basement when I got a call from SPOT that the 911 button had been pushed. They were wondering if I was ok. I told them my dad had the spot. I gave them some basic info to give SAR, like, the name of the canyon. I knew it was Larry because my dad told me his itinerary and also the coords. that the SPOT guy had from the 911 message. I called my mom and told her. That was tough. We decided to head down there ourselves and see what, if anything, we could do.

Here are the coords. that the SPOT guy gave me for my dad’s location: 38.28968, –110.40189. They were right on.

Chad (chabidiah) was there with me and he agreed to come with and help out—what a great brother–in–law. Thanks, dude. My mom and sister also came down.

We threw all our stuff together and headed for the Roost. We hit some pretty nasty snow on Highway 6 but made pretty good time. We left Lehi at about 6 PM. On the dirt road in, we past a couple deputies on their way out. They said they went to the trailhead and didn’t see a car but saw a few footprints. I told them they probably parked near the car shuttle at the end and we were going to camp the night. The deputy said they couldn’t do anything in the dark and they would be back at about 6 AM on Sunday.

We found their camp spot on the way to the car shuttle exit. We parked there and started organizing gear. Everything was just thrown in the back of my suburban so it took some time to get it organized. Chad and I both packed a bunch of warm clothes, water, and first aid stuff, and we both carried a 200–ft rope. I would guess our packs weighed about 55–60 lbs. We also put on a few extra layers in case they really needed more clothes.

We started hiking around 12:30 AM to walk the rim to where the coords. from the spot were. We dropped into a drainage and yelled and whistled as we walked. We were both sweating about 10 min. in due to the heavy packs and all the warm clothes. At about 1:15 AM Chad heard a whistle. He made voice contact with my little brother. They were surprised that it was Chad and I and not SAR. They weren’t even sure if the messages had made it out of the canyon for sure.

In total, we had 88 911 messages on the SPOT account. Every time they pushed the button it sends four 911 messages to the SPOT HQ.

We asked what happened and how they were. My dad said that he fell on a downclimb and he thought his ACL was torn all the way through. He made a splint out of the braces in his internal frame backpack and some webbing but it wasn’t holding together really well. They were above the last two rappels in a more open spot in the canyon, just after the narrows let up. He had injured his knee on a downclimb above the part of the canyon with the slanted wall. He guessed it was, maybe, a mile that he had walked. They said they had a couple liters of water left and food to last the night. They were in an alcove and protected from any weather that may come up. They had built a fire and were comfortable.

After looking in the dark for a route down, we decided we couldn’t get anything to them and told them that we were at their camp and that SAR said they would be there in the morning. We left them in the canyon and went back to camp.

We got back to camp at about 2:15 AM and called Wayne county dispatch to give them an update. I let them know who I was and told them I was calling about the search in Larry canyon. I was informed that the search had been called off because they got a call from SPOT and were told they received an ‘OK’ message. I told them the situation and asked to get the search going in the morning as planned. The dispatch said he would have the sheriff contact me.

We spent a cold night in the car. I laid by the fire we had and stayed cozy. I woke up at 7 AM and hadn’t gotten contacted by anyone. I called dispatch and was informed that everyone was gearing up and they should be leaving Loa in a few minutes. ETA for SAR was 10 AM.

Chad and I went back to check on them. I told them about the mix–up with SAR and they said they never pushed the OK button. They had actually pushed the 911 button on the SPOT a few times in the morning to make sure a message with the right coords. got to SAR. They said they were comfortable but running low on water. We talked about Chad and me hiking up from the exit crack, having them rap to us, and helping carry Dad out. He said his leg hurt worse than the night before and he couldn’t put any weight at all on it. We decided to have him stay put and let SAR decide what to do. We didn’t want to have him rap deeper in the canyon and make it harder to hoist him out if that is what was decided.

SAR found us around 10 AM, like predicted, and we pointed out where Dad and Kyle were on a map. We decided to drive cross–country to the top of the canyon so as to not have to carry all the gear for a ½ mile from camp to their location. We got to the top of the canyon around 10:30 AM.

The rappel team and a couple EMTs rapped into the canyon. There were four stages to rappel. A total of about 300 feet broken up. I think there were seven total guys that rapped in. They were dressed in jackets and only carried equipment in their backpacks. They had drills, ropes, and the usual rack you would expect. They also lowered down a basket that had a wheel on the bottom. This was so they could lay Dad in it and lower him down the raps and then wheel him down the riverbed to the exit.

They decided they couldn’t get him out that way and called for a helicopter. The first helicopter was delayed and then canceled: they had to call a heli in that had a winch on it and so Life Flight was the only option. Life Flight was late and got to the area around 4:30 PM and wanted to drop their own EMT in to assess. They wasted about 30 minutes doing that and then got the word to come get Dad. They pulled him out of the canyon at about 5:15 PM.

After Dad was on top and safe they told the sheriff, who was still up top with two other SAR guys, that they couldn’t get anyone else out of the canyon. We had pulled the ropes and packed them back to the top. I don’t know if someone made the decision to just go on and hope that they made it out before dark or if it just didn’t come up. The only option was for the SAR members and my brother to go out the bottom, in the dark.

Dad was flown to UVRMC and they had a couple specialists look at his knee. He had fractured a bone (not sure what one) and had a chip in there. He had also most likely torn his ACL but they scheduled an appointment to come back on Tuesday for a more detailed diagnosis. He was home in a couple of hours.

The sheriff asked Chad and me to stay and help since we had experience canyoneering and could maybe help get them out of the canyon. Chad and I were the only ones who knew anything about ropework that hadn’t gone in the canyon. I am not sure why they sent all the rope guys in and not at least one up top in case they needed to set up a haul system to get guys out. That is one reason they had to hike down. Chad and I could have set up a system but they didn’t trust us.

We explained the exit was a crack somewhere in the cliff wall with 4th class scrambling and it would be difficult to find in the dark. That is when we learned that none of the SAR guys took any water, food, or headlamps into the canyon. They didn’t expect to be hiking. They were thinking they were probably going to have to call in a heli anyway and that is how they would get out as well. One EMT had docker/loafer type shoes on!

We grouped back up at the exit and went in to find the exit we have never seen before. I had been meaning to go down Larry Canyon this year and it didn’t work out. It would have made life a lot easier if I had. The group of SAR guys stayed at the top and they sent Chad, me, and the sheriff’s son in to find the crack and lead the guys back up. We took a bunch of water, granola bars, and every light we could find. We didn’t pack any water, food, or gear for us because we wanted to stay light and fast. We suck at reading maps and that really slowed us down. We went way too far southish and, after praying, decided to walk the rim to the north more.

By this time it was about 8 PM. We had been down searching for the exit crack for over an hour. We backtracked and got cliffed out. It was deep enough that we couldn’t get our brightest light to shine on the canyon floor. It was really getting frustrating and disheartening being cliffed out over and over. We decided to head back up, start over, and go back down but farther north.

We made it about halfway back up the slickrock and saw headlamps in the drainage. We finally made radio contact with the guys in the canyon after about 2–3 hours of not being able to get them on the radio. We still hadn’t found the exit, decided to bail on the exit crack, and find the horse trail that was about a mile or two farther downcanyon. The tired group continued down. Chad saw a possible spot to get down and followed it. He said he found what he thought was the exit crack. The guys in the bottom couldn’t really communicate with them and Chad had run down to find the crack without the radio. The sheriff’s son and I had stayed higher. Chad tried to yell down to them to check it out and see what it looked like from the bottom.

Chad yelled down and they said, “Do you have a radio?”

Chad said, “No,” and they wouldn’t communicate with him after that. It was pretty hard to hear and they probably didn’t feel like fussing with whatever Chad was trying to say. It was also decided that it would be easier to get up the horse trail because it was a lot less steep, but it was longer.

This is when things really started going downhill on getting the guys out of the canyon. The sheriff and the other two SAR guys went about ½ mile down the road to the trailhead for the horse trail. The two SAR guys started down while we came back up out of the canyon and met up with the sheriff. We started down the equestrian trail to try and catch up with the other SAR guys. The plan was to meet up, get them food and water, and rotate carrying their packs to give them a break. We got a ways down and we lost the trail. We tried locating it, backtracking for about 30 minutes, and then decided to wait there and see if we could tell where they would come up so we could route find to them.

We were way south of the sheriff, he couldn’t see around a mountain, and that made some confusion. The group of SAR guys and my brother stopped and built a fire to warm up and rest. They were due south of the sheriff’s car. The SAR guys were a ways south downriver from that. The map showed that the horse trail zig–zagged almost exactly to where the big group was. He could get the group with my brother in it on the radio to let them know what the map showed and to look for the other SAR guys that were on the way down to find them.

Then we spotted a fire way south from the two SAR guys and relayed that info up to the sheriff. He told the big group to keep moving, to meet up, and get out. The big group got to a small cliff and there was water below them. They had no way around due to the high cliff walls. They turned around and let the sheriff know the situation.

The DPS helicopter pilot relayed a message to the sheriff through radio that he could come down and use infrared to find and pickup the guys in the canyon. He said he was coming down the next day and he could just come down early if needed. The sheriff asked him to come down. He was turned around by weather and landed in Spanish fork. He tried again and had to land in Nephi. It was a big letdown for the guys in the bottom.

We (Chad, the sheriff’s son, and me) were getting pretty cold and we couldn’t have a fire for the three of us because it was blocking the other group’s fire from the sheriff’s night vision. We decided to just come back up and decide if there was anything else we could do. Maybe go back and find the exit crack again and go down and find the big group. The sheriff told us that a storm was moving in that was supposed to dump 2–4 inches.

The guys at the bottom were in pretty bad shape. One had a sprained ankle. Another SAR guy didn’t have his medicine and was in danger of suffering a seizure. If he had a seizure he would also dislocate his shoulder from the seizure. Things were going bad. It was really cold—around 20 degrees. The guys were in no condition to stay in the canyon due to their clothing if it snowed. We also learned that they had been hauling down the rescue litter that had the wheel on it. I later asked my brother and he said they would take turns with it and had to carry it a lot because of the rough terrain in the canyon floor.

The sheriff made the decision to call a heli from Page, AZ to come get the guys out. The awesome dudes at Classic Air Ambulance came in and lifted out the guys and gear out of the canyon. This was around 1 AM on December 7, 2009. The two guys that were at the bottom made it back up about 10 minutes before the helicopter got there.

We made it to Green River and crashed at about 5 AM. Then the drive home was in killer snowy conditions but I made it back in time for my wife’s ultra sound so she was happy!

The SAR kind of got hosed by the first heli. He was so late and didn’t want to wait to pull others out of the canyon. We pulled all the ropes and it didn’t cross my mind to lower stuff to the guys at the bottom. Even if we had tried I don’t know if we could have gotten it down. The last rap is in two stages with about a 30–foot ledge.

Little things added up and compounded on each other. The dark and cold made everything ten times worse. It all ended happy and the SAR guys in Wayne county are tough as nails. They did an outstanding job in my opinion. They did more as volunteers to help my family than anyone ever has, paid or otherwise. Nothing but respect and love for Wayne county SAR from me.


—  Account by TNTRebel  —

I was going to post my full story but, since Jaxx and Chungy22 have shared such a good and accurate version, I will only add a few tidbits from myself. Well, maybe more than a little (lol).

I was so pissed at myself for taking the risk that caused the accident. I am normally so anal about safety that other canyoneers that go with me get annoyed. Things like no exposure without at least a belay. Even with the first one down the rap I use a biner block to tie off the rope and use the pull side as a belay for the first person down so they don’t have to go ‘exposed.’ I take a lot of youth groups through these canyons and we use a separate anchor (where possible) and belay system as a backup. Takes us forever to get through the canyons, but we are very safe. Jaxx has been a bit perturbed with me at times when I insist on belaying him as the first one down a rap. But I just say, “When ya go with me, you will always have a belay. Now stop boobing and get down the rope.”

Anyway, the reason I share this is I shouldn’t have taken the risk, but I felt like a little kid in the canyon and felt like Chungy22 and I were equals. So I didn’t have anyone to worry about (except myself). This trip I figured was Chungy22’s time to learn to set up the raps, so we both inspected the existing anchors, then he set up the rap and I inspected. I remember the distances a little different than Chungy22, but maybe it’s just my ego. The first of the two mandatory raps in the middle of the canyon was about 70 feet, and I downclimbed all but the last 20–30 foot straight fall and called up to Chungy22 to set the rope and throw it down to me.

The second mandatory rap looked similar but shorter, so I tried it as well. It was about 35 feet high. I downclimbed the first 17–20 feet through the ‘birth canal’ until it opened up significantly. I placed my left foot on the wall, level with my head, with my back and backpack pressed on the right wall and my right leg hanging towards the bottom. I wedged myself in and scooted down a little. I looked the situation over and noticed there was only about 6 inches of spring left in my left leg and below the slot opened too much to chimney any farther. I kind of evaluated if I could just continue with an uncontrolled slide, but decided it was just too high (15–18 feet to the landing). I started to turn to my left to tell Chungy22 that this was a bit hairy and go ahead and place the rope through the rapid on the anchor and I was going to try to handline the rest of the way down. BUT, just as I turned to holler up the slot, my backpack slipped off its perch and down I went. I was grabbing onto the right wall trying to swing my left leg down so I could catch myself with both legs, but no such luck—my right leg hit (most likely straight–legged as I don’t remember thinking to bend my knee for impact). My knee buckled back behind me and I went down hard on my helmet, with my momentum carrying me to the right and over the next drop (my recollection about 15 feet where my face was against the far wall of the landing). I was able to claw my way to a stop with my hands and with my left foot hooked on the pothole to my left. I stopped just as my shoulders went over the next cliff.

Chungy22 heard me hit hard and asked if I was ok.

I said “I think so, but that’s a rappel, so set it up”.

I took off my pack and started a self assessment. The only thing that hurt was my right knee, but that’s not unusual for me in these canyons. So I stepped into the pothole on my left leg and gingerly tried to step on my right. The bone pushed my pants out about 2 inched to the inside of my leg and the pain was excruciating and I wanted down. Damn I knew it was my ACL and I must have tore it completely, my daughter did the same in soccer a few years back. Not wanting to accept the truth I tried the same a couple of times with the same result, I’m sure I was cussing each time. My leg crumbled like a couple of tinker toys each time. I figured I would need help out of the canyon, but we were in the middle of the tight canyon with no way to have our SPOT signal SAR.

I started to get concerned and mad as hell at myself for the predicament that I just put us in. I unloaded my pack to see what I had. The major item missing was something solid to splint my leg. I started to think of sticks/wood we may have passed earlier, but nothing came to mind. I gotta admit I started to panic just a bit because I knew I needed a splint for any hope of getting out. Poor Chungy22 had to rap without a belay; I was kinda occupied thinking of options. Eventually, I realized we both had internal frame packs and there had to be a long solid bar of some kind in there. I started looking at my pack and pulled some Velcro straps off the top of the supports and pulled out two flat metal supports. Cool we are back in business, and I could feel myself calming down a bit. I tried to ducktape X’s on the skin on each side of he knee for additional support, but the ducktape didn’t hold. Bent the metal bars straight and placed on each side of the knee. Duck taped them in place, and then used my rap webbing to figure 8 the knee and to hold the top and bottom of the bars in place and just above and below the knee. Gave it a try in the pothole and, voila, I was able to walk gingerly.

It was about 1:30 PM. My son Chungy22 put all the heavy stuff in his pack. We both packed lighter than normal this trip cause of the tight canyon. My pack was 32 lbs and his was about 30 lbs when we started with everything. He took most of the weight; I had maybe 10–15 lbs. He was one of my heroes this trip, I was very proud of him. I’m glad it was him with me. He is level headed, strong as an ox, and young. We started down the canyon. The pain was excruciating, but I could hear Jaxx saying, “Quit your damn whining and keep going!” (lol). I was just a bit worried the pain was my meniscus (pad between the two big bones in your leg) ripping apart and I knew they are virtually not repairable (via surgery). So, as the pain got worse, I would stop and tighten up the splint. The surgeon told me I have a tibial plateau fracture (top of the tibia / shin bone) and that was mostly the pain I felt each time I put weight on it. The canyon was tough after the accident and the pain at times unbearable. At times I just tied my pack behind me, and crawled on my hands and good knee, dragging my injured leg and pack behind me.

Chungy22 was a major help getting me through that canyon—talk about partner assist. On the downclimbs we both removed our packs. He would downclimb without his right leg and tell me it was ok, then down with the packs (man, was his a monster!), and then he would spot me as I climbed down.

It was about a mile hike, I suspect, to get to the top of the last two optional rappels; I couldn’t handle much more pain. Chungy22 checked out the side canyon for a possible quick exit. In the mean time, I tightened my splint and looked over the area. The cliffs looked like they lent themselves to a cliff rescue (not sure of name, but where SAR might be able to lift me up the cliff in a basket) and, if we droped 160 feet further in the canyon, it would be that much harder. Plus the canyon below looked a little gnarly and harder to find a location to hunker down for the night.

There were a lot of large dry dead bushes around and I thought we could find an overhang or something to get out of the wind for the night. It was about 3:30 PM and I figured we had about 90 minutes of light to prepare to hunker down and gather firewood. It was at that moment I realized I just couldn’t get out of this canyon on my own accord. That was a large pill to swallow. I’ve always told my wife to never call SAR until I am 24 hours overdue. I will just always be prepared to spend 1–2 days in the canyon on my own if SAR is needed.

When Chungy22 got back, we decided to hunker down. I started to loose it just a bit emotionally at that point and turned away to hide my emotion from my son.

He said “Dad are you ok?”

I turned to him about ready to cry and said “No!” I said, “Chungy22, you are going to go through hell over the next 1–2 days and it is because of my mistake. I feel very guilty for putting you in this predicament, and I am really sorry for doing that to you.”

Little did I understand what hell he would go though, I meant getting me out! Then I told him we had 3 serious issues that could make the difference between survival and not. 1) We need to keep it together emotionally, not panic and think about how we will survive and keep busy surviving. I told him sorry for loosing it, but now we both need to be strong to get out of this, and I will stop feeling sorry for myself and we will get out of this.

2) I have suffered a serious injury and could go into shock. I have been watching myself closely as we have been hiking (I am a former EMT and volunteer ambulance driver). I don’t have concerns yet, but it is a possibility. So we discussed shock a bit.

3) The cold has the potential to kill us tonight so our immediate danger is the cold that will hit early in the morning. So we needed to get busy to survive the cold that night. The night before it was 10°F in the Roost.

After we decided to call SAR, I sat on that rock before pressing the 911 button for like 5 minutes. Even though I knew I needed help, I just couldn’t push it. Then I told Chungy22, well, we are going to scare the hell out of our families, and here comes the cavalry, and pressed the button. Later, when we thought the spot was not sending the messages it was disappointing. We discussed getting up at first light, splinting my leg, making crutches and taking the next day and night, and maybe even the next day getting out of that canyon. We needed to conserve our water and food for the ordeal. It was a relief when we heard Jaxx and Chabidiah on the canyon rim, what awesome heroes they both turned out to be for us. Chungy22 tells the story quite well in his post, so I will stop with the story there.

Jaxx, Chabidiah, and Chungy22 were heroes to me on this trip. I was very proud of all of them. Someday when I grow up, I want to be just like them!! The SAR folks were also my heroes!!

•  Injuries suffered from the dad  •

OK, since some have asked, here is a list of my injuries:

1 — I completely tore my ACL (ligament in the middle of big leg bones that holds them in place and together. It is in the middle of the joint.)

2 — Partially tore my MCL (ligament that holds the larger bones together on the inside of the knee, outside of the joint).

3 — Tore one of my meniscus cartilages (two pads which separate the large bones).

4 — Suffered a tibial plateau fracture (top of the tibia/shin bone). The fractured bone didn’t displace (just compressed), so may not need fixing.

5 — Severely damaged my safety ego.

I go in on Monday for surgery on my knee. The surgeon says the ego cannot be repaired.


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© 2009 Nick Turner