While at Canyonlands National Park, our team helped rescue a stranded hiker and her husband. The following excerpt is taken from an email I sent to the parents the next day to let them know why we were out so late. All of our parents were very supportive once they learned the details of what transpired.
I have received word that there were some concerns about the late night we had last night. It was an extraordinary day. I’ll keep it very brief.
We made our way to Canyonlands National Park and did a 1.2 mile hike on a trail called the Upheaval Dome trail. We waited until 4:00pm in the afternoon to let things cool off and keep it comfortable. The kids really enjoyed it.
About halfway back from the turnaround point, a woman stopped us and asked if anyone had a cell phone with a signal. As I mentioned in the parent meeting, cell service is practically nonexistent in the parks, and this was no exception. The woman said her and her husband saw an older man stumbling around on an adjacent trail that could be seen from where we were standing. Her husband emerged from a small ravine and said that he couldn’t reach the man but he appeared to be in desperate need of help. We all started calling out for him. Our entire group was together at that point.
Shortly after, James and Monica Mason, and myself decided to help the couple at least locate the gentleman. We were around .5 miles from the parking area. I asked my wife, Bill Gillispie, and Miriam Gillispie to take the kids back to the parking area. James, Monica, and I stayed to see if we could locate the gentleman. James is a paramedic, Navy Search and Rescue Pilot and has ran emergency response operations. Monica is a nurse practitioner. I am a former Army officer and very experienced at land navigation and outdoor craft. Once we were assured our students were safe, we had a moral obligation to help find this man. We did.
He was from Denmark, and had left his wife, who was suffering from heat exhaustion, at the bottom of a very deep gorge about 2 miles back. The gorge was very, very deep and he was so dehydrated and delirious he could not remember exactly where she was. After developing a plan, James and Monica started the search for the wife. I escorted the husband back to the parking area. Bill and Miriam contacted the park rangers once they got there. It was approximately 6:50pm.
Once I brought the husband back to the trailhead, I checked with the three chaperones to make sure all of our people were safe (they were, they were playing games around a picnic shelter), I loaded up with as much water as I could, and set back out to help James and Monica.
We found the correct gorge. Standing at the top, James was able to establish text communications with 911. Monica and I started following a very narrow and steep trail down the 3000 foot canyon. We found the woman and led the search and rescue party to her location. After the rangers and paramedics were on scene, Monica and I climbed out of the canyon, connected with James and the three of us walked the two miles back to the trailhead. By this time it was around 9:30 and was dark. As we walked off the high point, James lost his limited cell signal.
By the time we made it back, EMS and the Park Rangers Incident Commander were at the trailhead with Bill, Miriam, and Missy. The kids were hanging out in our vehicles. AT NO TIME WERE THE KIDS IN ANY UNSAFE CONDITIONS. They were fully supervised by our chaperones and, in fact, in the presence of law enforcement and emergency responders.
By this time we made it back to Moab, it was 10:23. The kids had eaten a late lunch at 3:00pm, but I still wanted to feed them dinner. We went to the only restaurant that was open in Moab (Denny’s), which had extremely slow service. We didn’t finish dinner until 12:15am, and immediately made the 1:45 minute drive to our hotel in Grand Junction . We safely arrived there at 2:00am. The kids went to bed and we woke up this morning at 10:00am.
The park rangers extracted the wife at 3:00am, about the time we arrived at our hotel. It was a long day.