Independence Day

Nancy Green


KUED Producer, Nancy Green, specializes in the production of documentaries for local, regional, and national PBS broadcast. Her work at KUED spans nearly 25 years, focusing on diverse topics, including healthcare, the arts, history, and the outdoors. Recent, films include, Homeless at the End, Search & Rescue, The Utah Bucket List, Maynard...Read more

Holidays are a great time to head to the mountains and lakes. They're also a busy time for search and rescue volunteers. Last year, in Utah County alone, they had four callouts on July 3rd. Most of those calls were to help hikers injured while visiting one of the Wasatch Front's popular waterfalls. Water and rocks make for some slippery slopes — it's easy to fall, so be extremely cautious when exploring. This summer we have record-breaking heat, so make sure you have plenty of cool water for Independence Day. And if you want a break from the sweltering valley temps, try going to higher elevations. For every 1000-foot gain, the temperature drops about three to five degrees Fahrenheit. Since cold temperatures and snow are going to be hard to find this year, I thought I would share a story from author and search and rescue volunteer Shaun Roundy from his book 75 Search and Rescue Stories. It's a chilling rescue story from a much cooler July 4th.

"Holidays are popular times for accidents and emergencies. With so many people off work and recreating in the great outdoors, something somewhere is bound to go wrong.

Such was the case with a group of mountaineers climbing Timpanogos over the 4th of July weekend. A long and wet winter left the mountain still half covered in deep snow despite occasional hundred-degree days in the valley. 

The mountaineers went equipped with crampons and axes and summited without incident. They traversed across the knife-blade summit ridge and dropped down the glacier to Emerald Lake, still frozen below the snowpack. They hiked past Hidden Lakes and looked down the Primrose Cirque toward Aspen Grove.

"Last one down's a rotten marmot!" Jed shouted to his friends. he grinned at them, then sat down on the brink, holding his axe to one side, one hand on the shaft and one wrapped over the head, lifted his heels, and began glissading down the slope. One by one, his three friends followed suit.

Sliding down the slope made the going so much easier than the slow ascent. Warm rays from the morning sun had softened the top layer of the frozen snowpack and made the ride comfortable despite the cold working its way through their pant shells.

"I think I'm getting frost butt," Jed quipped as his friends caught up to where he had paused, digging in his axe pick to stop.

Below them stretched a wide open snowfield with five hundred feet of elevation without a single cliff band to traverse around. "Anybody wanna race?" Jed asked, shooting a challenging glance toward his friends.

"Sure," Dave answered. "I'll take you on."

"Last one to the flat," Jed explained, indicating a spot where the slope leveled out five hundred feet below, "buys lunch."

"On three," Dave replied, then began counting."One...three!"

Both climbers sat quickly, raised their heels, and began to slide. Within seconds, both were scooting along over thirty miles per hour.

The snowpack was harder here than the higher slopes. More exposed to sunlight, it had melted more thoroughly before freezing up again overnight. Thousand-foot cliffs behind them had spent the winter avalanching, further packing the snow.

Jed had the lead, but bouncing over the snow grew uncomfortable - not just on his rear end, but his courage began to ebb as well. "Screw it," he muttered to himself, and dug in his axe blade.

The blade caught hard and nearly ripped out of his hands. Jed felt the first surge of concern bordering on fear. He let the axe pull him over onto his stomach so he could get a better hold on it, just like he had practiced in training. Glancing uphill, he saw that Dave had stopped himself fifty feet earlier.

Unfortunately, in Jed's light-hearted approach to mountaineering, he had neglected one other detail of his training. He was glissading without first taking off his crampons.

Eager to slow his rapid descent, Jed kicked his steel-spiked toes into the snow surface. Everything happened very quickly then. First, his crampons stopped, but the rest of Jed's body did not. His right shin broke in half. Both the tibia and fibula snapped under the sudden pressure. The abrupt traction flipped Jed up and over through the air.

Through pain and confusion, he managed to maintain enough presence of mind to keep his grip on the axe, and when he landed, he jammed the blade down again, this time lifting his toes away from the snow.

He stopped and let his toes fall to the snow again. His shin hurt too intensely to breathe, much less scream, and he pressed his pain-contorted face against snow, his mouth wide open and waiting for his voice to return.

After what seemed like a long time, Jed finally took a breath. The air came rushing in fast and deep, and his diaphragm quickly expelled it again in an anguished shout.

His friends ran down the hill toward him. When they saw Jed's mangled leg, they did what they could to make him comfortable and one took out a phone and dialed 911.

By the time Olin and I reached the accident scene, North Fork Fire and other SAR members were already attending to Jed's injuries. They splinted his leg, monitored vital signs, and ran an IV into his brachial artery to keep him hydrated. They built a four-point snow anchor from axes buried in the snow with a collection point to attach a rope to which ensured that each anchor held an equal portion of the load's weight.

Olin and I measured 200' down the mountain and set another anchor with a pair of pickets. The snowpack was so hard that we had to pound the pickets in with a rock that had rolled down the slope from the cliffs above.

We again used a 200'er to measure the distance for the next anchor and, when the litter arrived below, used our anchor to get the litter up the slope more quickly. with end tied to the litter, Olin ran down the hill, dragging the litter in the opposite direction as he went.

Before long, we had Jed packaged in the litter and the lowering began. When the package arrived at each subsequent station, we attached the line through the new brake rack and continued with barely a pause.

Once the snow ran out another thousand feet down the mountain, we attached the litter's wheel and carried Jed the rest of the way down to the waiting ambulance."

Thanks to Shaun Roundy for allowing KUED to use this story on the blog. To learn more about his book 75 Search and Rescue Stories, please go here: Have a happy Independence Day and please use caution in your activities (even if there is no snow).

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