With summer officially getting under way tomorrow, more and more folks will be heading out to the national parks for some summer fun. Just be sure to be careful out there so you don't find yourself added to a search-and-rescue report as these folks were.
Accidents can, and do, happen, but you often can minimize the odds by taking precautions such as carrying enough snacks and water, not over-estimating your abilities, and relying on the buddy system.
Yosemite National Park
On the evening of June 14th, park dispatch received a call from John G. Badgley reporting that his 19-year-old son, John T. Badgley (who goes by Tanur), had suffered injuries in a fall on Sentinel Rock in Yosemite Valley. The family was visiting the park from Kansas at the time. Badgley also reported that a second son, age 16, was stranded on the same talus slope. Although uninjured, he too was unable to descend on his own.
Rangers later determined that all three Badgleys were scrambling on a talus slope below Sentinel Fall when Tauner slipped and fell on loose rock. He was unable to regain his footing and fell 50 feet down the slope, sustaining injures to his back and neck and a possible pelvic fracture. Tauner attempted to descend the slope after his fall, but realized he was too injured to move. At the same time, his brother became stuck on a cliff edge just above the talus slope and was unable to descend.
Ranger Jarred Mitrea was dispatched and arrived on the scene around 8:30 p.m. He began providing basic medical treatment to Tauner and was soon joined by ranger Jack Hoeflich and a Yosemite SAR team member.
Rescue crews were able to rappel to the 16-year-old and remove him from the cliff face shortly after nightfall. Mitrea and Hoeflich decided that it would be unsafe for Tauner and rescue crews to descend the slope with him, though, and it was too dark to fly him out by helicopter. The rangers stayed the night on the talus slope with Tauner. Around 6 a.m., he was extricated by helicopter short haul and flown to Memorial Medical Center in Modesto, California.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Around 1 p.m. Thursday, June 16, park rangers were notified of a single bicycle accident on Trail Ridge Road. A 30-year-old man from Toronto, Canada, had been blown over on his bicycle by heavy wind gusts one quarter mile east of Lava Cliffs on Trail Ridge Road. A thunderstorm had moved through the area with winds in excess of 45 miles per hour. He suffered numerous traumatic injuries including head and pelvis injuries as well as hypothermia. He was wearing a helmet and was with another bicyclist. The other bicyclist was not blown over but suffered from hypothermia as well.
Park rangers assisted both men and the seriously injured man was taken by an Estes Park Medical Center ambulance to Alpine Visitor Center. When the accident occurred, an air ambulance from St. Anthony Hospital happened to be at the Alpine Visitor Center as part of a training exercise for park staff. At 2:20 p.m. the man was flown by St. Anthony Flight for Life to St. Anthony Central Hospital.
New River Gorge National River
A 25-year-old Colorado woman was climbing on the Fern Creek Party Wall on the evening of June 13th when she fell about 15 feet and slammed into the wall, knocking herself unconscious. The Fern Creek Party Wall is part of the Endless Wall climbing area. The climber was employing traditional methods and was almost at the top of the 5.10-rated Biohazard Route when the accident occurred. She’d just placed a cam device for protection and was leaning back to rest when the placement failed and she fell about 15 feet.
The next piece of protection held, though, and her belayer was able to catch her. Although wearing a helmet, the impact knocked her out for about 30 seconds. After she regained consciousness, she was lowered the rest of the way and carried out to a waiting ambulance by Fayette County’s high-angle rescue team, assisted by local firefighters. She was then flown to Charleston for evaluation.
Although she complained of dizziness, hearing loss and back pain, her injuries were not deemed severe and she was soon released.
White Sands National Monument
A 23-year old woman from Sheldon, Iowa, died (June 15) while hiking the Alkali Flat Trail. Erica Hoekstra was hiking with a friend when she began experiencing symptoms of distress. Erica’s friend quickly hiked back to the trailhead to retrieve additional water and ice from their car and called 911 from her cell phone around 1 p.m.
When the friend returned to the scene, she found Erica unconscious and began CPR. Upon receiving the 911 call, rangers hike about a half mile to her location on the trail and continued CPR.
Paramedics from Alamo West Volunteer Fire Department also responded and provided assistance, but were unable to revive her.
The Alkali Flat Trail is a five-mile loop trail traversing the park’s dunes. The high temperature was near 100 degrees. Hikers are advised to be prepared for extreme temperatures and bring at least one gallon of water per person, sunglasses, sunscreen, and high energy snacks.
Shenandoah National Park
Over the past several weeks, search and rescue responders at Shenandoah have conducted nine search and rescue operations, five of them becoming major SAR incidents:
* A 24-year-old man was climbing grape vines along the Hazel River Trail and only recognized the folly of this activity when he was about 50 feet above the ground. The grape vines broke before he could get down, causing him to fall about 35 feet. The man fractured both ankles, with one of them being an open fracture. In addition to being in one of the more remote areas of the park, the four-and-a-half mile carryout was conducted in a heavy rainstorm and required four swiftwater crossings as a result of swollen creeks.
* A 57-year-old man was rock climbing with two companions near the summit of Old Rag Mountain. Through a possible miscommunication, the lead climber took the second climber off belay. When the second climber pulled on the unsecured belay line, expecting it to hold, it gave way and he fell 50 feet to a lower ledge and sustained several serious injuries. While the park’s ground team was mobilizing, initial rescuers stabilized the man and assisted the US Park Police air rescue helicopter in a litter hoist evacuation.
* A group of hikers headed out on an off-trail route toward one of the park’s summits. Two women from the group took an alternate route and became disoriented. They reported their predicament by cell phone after it got dark and were asked to remain in place overnight, since the weather was favorable. A search began for them in the morning and the two women were located. Both were in good condition.
* Most search and rescue operations in Shenandoah become major SAR incidents because of the difficulty of the terrain and rugged nature of the trails. SAR operations are only successfully completed because of the cooperation of all divisions and the enthusiasm shown by the numerous employees who volunteer and train for these difficult operations.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Rangers received a report last Thursday of a man stuck on the cliffs near the Point Reyes lighthouse. Neil Kumar, 31, and his cousin, Charlie Kumar, 20, had descended approximately a thousand feet down the cliffs of the Point Reyes headlands, an area closed to public entry. When they tried to climb back up, they found that the cliff was steep and crumbly.
Charlie could not go further, so waited in a relatively safe spot while Neil continued to climb. He reached the parking lot after several hours and called for assistance. Rangers, Marin County firefighters and a California Highway Patrol helicopter responded. The crew of the helicopter confirmed Charlie’s position on the cliff, but declined the mission due to winds gusting over 40 mph. Rangers and county firefighters then conducted a high-angle technical rescue, raising Charlie over 500 feet. He was shaken but otherwise uninjured. Both Kumars were cited for multiple violations.
Zion National Park
On June 8th, a 30-year-old visitor from the Netherlands fell approximately 10 feet onto his head while down-climbing a slick rock section along the Hidden Canyon route. A visitor who was in the vicinity of the fall ran out to the entrance of the canyon and located another visitor at with cell service to report the incident. A technical rescue operation began that involved 27 park staff.
Responders carried the man over difficult terrain out to the mouth of the canyon in a litter. Once carried out of the steep-walled, narrow section of the route, Grand Canyon’s helicopter and flight crew were able to short-haul him from a high ridge to a waiting NPS ambulance.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Four college friends left the Little Sand Bay boat launch on the afternoon of June 7th to kayak to a campsite on Sand Island three miles away. Rangers had advised the kayakers that a small craft advisory had been posted for that area that forecast northeast winds of 20 to 25 knots and waves of from three to five feet.
One of the kayaks began taking on water about a mile from the island and soon became submerged, causing the kayaker to abandon his vessel. A second kayaker, Kevin Dammen, 20, turned back to assist and capsized while doing so. The remaining two kayakers were able to help the first, but soon lost sight of Dammen, who they last saw straddling his kayak and holding a paddle. One of them returned to Little Sand Bay and reported the incident to a campground host.
The NPS notified the Bayfield County Sheriff’s Department and a multi-agency search was begun. There were three- to five-foot-high waves on the lake during the search and the water temperature was in the mid-40s. The two kayakers on Sand Island were picked up by a park boat and returned to shore. The crew of a Coast Guard vessel found Dammen floating in the water near Sand Point. Efforts to revive him were unavailing. The county coroner subsequently determined that he’d succumbed to hypothermia.