Our search and rescue teams in Utah are pretty incredible.
More so than many states, Utah has a variety of natural features and expanse of outdoors that draw residents in for their beauty and wonder.
On occasion, this also puts some ill-prepared residents in dangerous situations that require the aid of Utah County Search and Rescue, or SAR, members.
Many times, SAR navigates difficult terrain and precarious positions to rescue an individual — or in worse cases, recover.
This past week, news spread of the local SAR team’s efforts to rescue a hiker’s dog that had fallen 40 feet in a cavern-like area at the base of a waterfall.
The individual was recreating at Stewart Falls with their dog off leash, a popular hiking area in the other seasons.
According to reporting, an avalanche from the previous week had deposited more than 40 feet of snow at the base of the falls, which the falling water had melted, carving out a 40-foot-deep hole.
Despite facing current avalanche danger in the area, the SAR team attempted to rescue the dog due to fear that nontrained people and bystanders would attempt to rescue the dog and further endanger themselves.
Ultimately, the dog was saved after being strapped into a harness and lifted out with a rescuer. Images of the event show the dog, with no broken bones or injuries, purely elated to be interacting with humans. You can’t help but smile when you see it; it’s heart-melting.
But, we feel the other side of this story that has only been hinted at is very important for residents to understand.
The popular Stewart Falls trail, of which Sundance owns the majority of the public access to, is prone to frequent and serious avalanche danger in the winter months — especially during and after storms come through. Safety officials have previously urged people to check conditions with the Utah Avalanche Center before taking a winter hike. In fact, the Daily Herald most recently reported on this Jan. 18.
Terrain in Utah canyons is constantly subject to avalanche danger and safety concerns associated with those ever-changing conditions. It is an ongoing concern that will require more public education, so that our communities can prevent fatalities and injuries, as well as avoid putting our brave SAR members in danger because of reckless actions.
Recreationists — including snowmobilers, climbers, snowboarders, snowshoers, skiers and hikers — need to exercise more caution; always check conditions before you go into canyon areas. Take precautions to protect your animals from the cold weather conditions, as well as keeping them on leashes in unknown terrain.
Incidents will not always end in as happy endings as this past week’s.