Birch Hollow Zion National Park
Posted on May 3, 2018 by Kent
My son-in-law, Craig wanted to introduce his friend to the sport of canyoneering. His friend Ryan has two sons, 17-year-old Kaden and 16-year-old Jackson. The three of them, Craig, and my brother-in-law Quinn, and I decided to go through a technical slot canyon called Birch Hollow just east of Zion National Park. I’ve been through this canyon 3 previous times. It is normally a dry canyon with a very, very small stream running through it.
The plan was to go through this canyon which has about 9 repells. Birch Hollow empties into Orderville Canyon. We were going to go down Orderville Canyon which intersects with the Zion Narrows (North Fork) and exit at the Temple of Sinawava. The entire hike would take about 10 hours.
The forecast was for 20% chance of a shower and would probably be a late afternoon shower if it occurred.
We got a shuttle to a remote trailhead and off we went. The streambed was muddy. It was apparent that there had been plenty of rain in the past few days. Everything was uneventful and we were having fun. It is always a pleasure to introduce someone new to canyoneering and to a new canyon. Quinn and I were the only ones who had been through before.
About 3/4ths of the way down, we came to a 10-foot down climb. I started my way down and got to the canyon floor when I slipped on the mud and fell. I can’t remember how I caught my right shoulder, but whatever caught it, caused it to dislocate. It happened so suddenly, that I don’t recall a lot of pain initially, but I immediately knew something was wrong and I let everyone else know about it.
Shortly after the accident, we started hearing thunder and looking up the narrow walls we could see the sky overcast. Soon it started to sprinkle. I can honestly say that I have never been so scared in my life including spending 30 years in law enforcement and being shot at. If the canyon received a flash flood we would all be killed. There was no high ground where we were at.
We had three more repells of 60 to 80 feet before we could exit into Orderville Canyon. We rushed as fast as we could to get through those. I had to repell using my left hand as my brake hand and holding my right arm to my chest to stabilize it.
We all said lots of prayers to get us through the canyon before water and debris flowed. I would not have made it without everyone helping me. They carried my gear and helped me set up my harness. Craig acted as my safety man on the ropes.
The two young men were starting to experience hypothermia. We made it out of Birch Hollow ok. In order to abort our hike, we had to hike up canyon (and uphill!!!) out of Orderville. We were still not out of danger for flash flooding, but the danger was decreasing.
I had what is called a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) It is a device that sends a signal to a satellite administered by NOAA. The signal is sent to the USAF National Search and Rescue Center in Florida. They then contact local search and rescue.
Normally one should sit still and wait for SAR to come to them, but we were still in an area subject to flash flooding. We hiked about 5 miles up some pretty steep hills to get to another remote trailhead.
Quinn hiked ahead of us to try and get help. The others held back to help me out. We got stuck in some deep mud. The others had to spend 30 minutes or more to dig me out. The mud came up to my crotch and with one arm, I couldn’t get myself out of it. It was almost like quicksand. The more I worked against it, the more of a vacuum it created sucking me in.
We finally got clear of the mud. I could walk a couple hundred yards, then would have to sit down and rest and try to relieve the pressure on my right arm. We were never able to successfully rig a sling. I would hold my right arm to my chest using my left hand.
We were able to eventually make to the remote trailhead which started Orderville canyon. We no sooner got there, when we could see a helicopter flying over the ridgeline of the mountain to the west of us. I knew it was for us.
The flight crew didn’t see us initially. They flew to the south of us in a search pattern. We launched a couple of flares but as it turned out they were not looking in the right direction to see the flares.
Air Force Search and Rescue had contacted Utah Department of Public Safety in Salt Lake City. The helicopter was theirs and was flown out of Salt Lake. By road the drive is about 300 miles. I’m not sure how many miles by air it is, but it probably took about 2 hours of flight time to get to us.
They finally saw us and landed next to us. They had a crew of 3—a pilot, spotter, and a man to go down the hoist, if needed.
The hoist man stayed with Craig, Ryan, Kayden, and Jackson. I was put in the helicopter and flown to the Hurricane (a close by town) airport where I was met by a ground ambulance.
Search and Rescue personnel from Kane County picked up the five others and took them by truck to the Zion visitor center.
I had a 30-minute ride by ambulance to Dixie Regional Hospital in St. George. They started an IV and gave morphine to me. The drug never did cut all the pain. At the hospital, they gave more morphine to me and some fentanyl. That didn’t do away with all it, either.
They finally put me all the way out and put my shoulder back in place. I went for about 8 hours with my shoulder displaced before it was fixed. When I woke up I was completely pain free. Putting the shoulder back did the trick. I have not had to have any pain killers including over the counter stuff at all. I have had some residual numbness inside of my arm, but absolutely no pain.
I had huge help from all my partners. I couldn’t have made it out without them and the Kane County SAR, UDPS helicopter crew, Hurricane Fire ambulance crew, and the ER personnel made my life so much better.
Prayers work miracles too. Nice to have the help of a Heavenly Father.
I feel badly that Vickie, my daughter Heather, Ryan’s wife Kristie had to suffer not knowing any details of what happened or what condition we were in for several hours.
Words of wisdom
If you are an outdoor person that ventures out into the back country, I highly recommend a PLB. I bought mine several years ago when they were first legal in the continental US. They are a life saver and some of the cheapest insurance one can buy!!! They are to be used only under dire circumstances.
Thank you note
Thank you ACR!
Birch Hollow Zion National Park
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