Utah County Sheriff’s Office sounds alarm on ‘ill-prepared’ hikers after recent rescues
On Aug. 23, a group of young adults was hiking Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon. One in the group, a 19-year-old, fell 30 feet and Utah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue were called out. In a post on the sheriff’s office Facebook page, the group was described as “ill-equipped.” While the fall resulted in minor injuries, instances of unprepared and inexperienced would-be hikers and climbers getting injured or stuck are becoming more common, and the sheriff’s office would like people to know ways to keep themselves safe while enjoying the outdoors.
“We’ve had a couple of recent rescues at Bridal Veil Falls at Provo Canyon. One ended up being a fatality, and in both of the cases, they weren’t particularly prepared for hiking,” said Sgt. Spencer Cannon.
“Hiking is typically on a trail, maybe a flat trail. There’ s nothing about the hike that would turn it into a climb. When you get into a climb, it’s getting a lot steeper and getting vertical even, people using handholds and footholds and a very steep, vertical slope,” Cannon said. “When you transition from a hike, even a difficult hike, into a climb, you’re getting into an area where you ought to consider your own skill level, ability, equipment and look at safety concerns.”
In the case of the four young adults who were recently rescued, Cannon said they were not prepared with climbing or safety equipment. They were not wearing helmets and had inadequate footwear, one even wearing sandals.
Cannon said the sheriff’s office gets about 15 or 20 calls each year, even during the winter, about people who have fallen or who are stranded in the canyons in Utah County. “The most common situation is where somebody is climbing up a hill. It’s easier to climb up than climb down and they realize they can’t go on anymore and realize they can’t get down either,” Cannon said. “So, they call for help. That is the best thing to do is to call for help.”
During the past year, there were two incidents above Rock Canyon in which people could not get down because of the snow or they were stuck on a slope that was too difficult. “Sometimes when our rescuers get in there, it’s just a matter of experience. Search and Rescue can escort people down. Other cases, they have to set up anchoring systems and ropes because of the difficult terrain,” Cannon said.
About two years ago, a women could not get up, down or sideways from where she ended up and she had no place to rest. “She was hanging by the tips of her feet and hands for the better part of an hour until we could get her down,” Cannon said. “She had to hang on because she didn’t feel safe moving in any direction. That was scary for her and our rescuers.”
These situations and others like them could be avoided if hikers and climbers follow some simple safety guidelines, Cannon said. “Probably the biggest thing is take a good hard look at your own skillset. Look at the area that you are going to go to,” he said.
For example, Bridal Veil Falls is a beautiful and popular spot. The trail to the base of the falls is a relatively easy hike. “What happens is people get there and see the steep slopes going around the falls and think they want to go there,” Cannon said. “Then they get injured or cliffed out or they slip and fall. They prepared for a hike to the base of the falls, but they haven’t prepared with the proper equipment or training for climbing.”
People often overestimate their own abilities, Cannon said. He recommends talking to someone who has experience in the area and even have the person come along.
“Some people like to go out on their own. We don’t recommend that. But, if you do, make sure you tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. If you’re late, they can call for help,” Cannon said. “We’ll send deputies up to trailheads to look for cars. Sometimes we find the car and nobody is there so we send an airplane up and maybe the search and rescue team. If you do run into unexpected trouble and are late, they can call for help.”
Proper clothing and equipment can also make all the difference in a dangerous situation. “We’ve seen people hiking (Mount Timpanogos) in flip-flops. That makes absolutely no sense,” Cannon said. “Even with sturdy sandals, a rock can hit an exposed toe or foot. Even a scrape or laceration can ruin the day.”
Having plenty of water for a hike or a water filter is also important. Cannon also recommends carrying a light jacket and being prepared to stay overnight, if needed. Members of the search and rescue team, for example, always take overnight equipment with them in case something occurs that prevents them from coming back before dark. Hats for shade and sunscreen are also recommended. “Be prepared for the weather,” Cannon said.
“A lot of the calls that we go on are people who are not well-prepared. They don’t have enough water, not enough food, no sunscreen or hat, they get altitude sickness,” he said. “Not being prepared can put someone in a potentially life-threatening situation.”