Canyon Tales
Zero Gravity and
a Lot of Dish Soap

by Lindsey Hargrave

My husband, William, and I set out on a sunny August day to test out some new gear in Zero Gravity canyon. I had read the beta and was only worried about the keeper hole, everything else seemed simple enough. We made it through the canyon, enjoying the abundance of water on the hot day and made it through the keeper hole with minimal effort. I was relieved and ready to exit the canyon and have lunch. We rappelled to the canyon floor and evaluated the last obstacle. There was a chokestone about 8-10 feet up with a gap beneath it.

Option A is to squeeze below the stone, pop out, and water slide into the pool. Option B is to climb up to the stone and rappel off of it into the pool. William was up on the stone, preparing to rappel and I tried to toss him his backpack. I missed and the pack fell down into the Option A route. It looked wide enough, and according to the beta I could fit, so I figured I would give it a try and also retrieve the pack. I grabbed the pack, tossed it up to him (successfully!) and moved maybe one or two feet before I couldn’t move anymore. It was like the canyon had become a vacuum and I couldn’t go forward, backwards, up, or down.

Immediately I knew I was in trouble. Because of the way the canyon floor essentially falls out at that point, the last step I had made had put me about one foot above the canyon floor. If all had gone as planned I would have taken one more big step down and then slid on into the pool, but instead I was wedged and dangling just barely off the floor. William hastily rappelled down and made his way out to the truck towards phone service. I kept closing my eyes, opening them only to see a rock wall directly in front of my face.

What felt like an eternity later I heard a strangers voice from the canyon rim. He seemed happy and positive that this would be a quick rescue. After all, I wasn’t the first rescue in that canyon, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. Jimmy, the stranger from the top of the canyon, soon rappelled down to meet me as dust and rocks tumbled down from the helicopter flying overhead. Jimmy rigged up a pulley system, looped it around me, and pulled up. Each pull got me more stuck and eventually I started to lose feeling in my legs. As day turned to night, I could tell the SAR team was getting desperate. I had no idea how long it had been since I had gotten stuck. They had tried multiple rescue attempts - pulleys, webbing tied to my leg loops and two gallons of dish soap, just to name a few. The team kept mentioning calling in more resources from Wayne County. I wasn’t sure what that meant ... dynamite? ... butter? ... more dish soap?

After some deliberations a few more people were sent down into the canyon. There was someone who came up into the canyon underneath to hold my feet up. The flight nurse from the helicopter rappelled down since he was the only one small enough to get down to where I was. And one last person came down with a rock drill. Mark, the flight nurse, came down headfirst to tie a knot into my harness. The leg loop had already snapped with a previous effort but he was able to wedge a rope through the hip belt of my harness. While he did that, two bolts were drilled into the canyon on opposite sides to attempt to seesaw me out.

I’m not sure how many people were up on top of the canyon, but they pulled all at once and didn’t stop. They eventually pulled only on my right side, since it was too narrow to the left and it was just making me more stuck every time they pulled to the left. I felt my hips get slightly looser, and as they pulled more and more my feet began to come up. Eventually I was horizontal and almost in a swimming position, now even with the stone that I should have climbed up to in the first place. I clutched the Gatorade that had been thrown down for me and they told me to throw it down so I had use of my hands. Jimmy was standing on the stone and I grabbed onto him. I couldn’t feel my legs and I wasn’t about to fall back down there, and if I did he was coming with me. I asked him if I had to go to the hospital, and I’m pretty sure he almost tossed me back into the canyon at that point.

Now I wasn’t wedged, but I still had to get out of this canyon. At one point, I believe it was, Mark looked at me and asked if I knew how far down I was—apparently about 150 feet. They put me in a full harness and I was clipped into Mark. The group at the top of the canyon began to pull us up. Since I had no control of my legs, I just kind of flopped around like a rag doll as they pulled me up, losing a shoe (RIP Chaco) in the process. I was placed onto a stretcher, IV’ed up, and carried across the desert to a waiting helicopter. When I got in and looked at the monitor it read 2:23 am. The last time I had checked the time was about 2 pm. I swear I had only been in there a few hours. No wonder he almost threw me back into the canyon when I asked if I had to go to the hospital.

As we took off I fell asleep and woke up to Provo. A nurse greeted us at the helicopter pad and began to take me in. Apparently word on the streets was that I had been hanging upside down for 12 hours. Nope, just walked into my doom. I was admitted to the ICU due to kidney failure from being stuck so long, and still have nerve damage in one of my legs. Luckily it only bothers me when I sit, so I am still free to roam.

When I went back a few days ago, it was very surreal. William showed me the rock he sat on and the mud he poked with a stick to pass the time. He talked about how he could only see my bright blue shorts since it was so dark in there. From where I was stuck I couldn’t see how big the pool was, and I could barely see him down there. After a few failed rescue attempts, I had begun to wonder if they would ever get me out. I thought about how they’d have to lower my dogs down to me to say goodbye. But the SAR team was resilient and that didn’t have to happen. I’m still getting over the mental aspect of it all, but I’m determined to do Zero G again, since I was so dang close to finishing it.

Lindsey Hargrave

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© 2017 Lindsey Hargrave