Too many stranded canyoneers who required help has prompted Zion National Park officials to temporary ban access to Middle Echo Canyon.
Superintendent Jock Whitworth says a number of canyoneers have become stranded because of snow and ice obstacles and required the assistance of park rangers to get them out. Because of these recent rescues and the similarity of the current conditions to those experienced in 2008, the superintendent decided to close the canyon area due to visitor safety concerns.
Rangers will periodically check canyon conditions and when the snow and ice obstacles have melted out to a degree which is passable by canyoneers of average ability with standard canyoneering equipment, the canyon will be re-opened to recreational use.
Last week Zion rangers responded to two incidents of stranded canyoneers in Middle Echo Canyon. In each case, the canyoneers had completed the technical portion of the route but were blocked from exiting the canyon by a large wall of snow and ice.
Rangers responded and removed the individuals from the canyon through technical raising operations from the canyon rim. None of the rescued individuals experienced any injuries but many of the victims experienced mild to moderate hypothermia and required minor medical treatment. Members of one of the parties received citations for failure to obtain a permit and for creating a hazardous condition. This rescue may not have been necessary if permits had been obtained and current canyon conditions checked.
Last June 21st, rangers located a party of four stranded canyoneers in Middle Echo Canyon. The group had attempted to exit Echo Canyon via a side canyon when they encountered a 30-foot high wall of snow that they could not bypass. Food and other supplies were lowered to the party and they spent the night in the canyon. The next morning, rangers employed a rope raising system to haul the party out of the canyon.
Park officials remind visitors that all canyoneering trips within the park require a backcountry permit and all canyoneers are encouraged to check current canyon and weather conditions by stopping at the Backcountry Permits Desk in the Zion Canyon Visitor Center prior to departing on any canyoneering trip.
Canyoneers are also reminded to always plan for unintended overnight stays and emergencies. Rescue in the canyons of Zion National Park is never guaranteed and always presents some degree of hazard to rescuers and victims. Remember, your safety is YOUR responsibility.