Rescue on the Subway at Zions – Part 3
Lower Left Fork Hike
The Subway is a tubular-shaped canyon with straight-cut lines resembling train tracks at its base. It is such an amazing geological feature and we were happy to see it for more than one reason. We had finally made it through the technical section, but we weren’t out of the canyon yet.
The actual Subway was awesome and if we weren’t in such a precarious situation, I’m sure I would have had a lot more fun there. There’s this one section where you slide down the slippery rock with the water gently pushing you and you end up in a deep pool. The deep pool was a bit of a surprise, but I wish we would have had more time there because I would have slid into that pool again and again. It was a blast!
We had taken a lot of time to get through the slot canyon and it was getting late in the day. So we left the Subway and rounded the bend of the river until we found dry ground in the sun. At this point we all took off our wet coveralls, changed out of our dry suits, and packed away our wet gear. We also ran into another group of hikers that had just come out of the slot canyon. They helped us make a stretcher, took M’s bag to lighten the load, offered to call Search and Rescue, and went on their way.
We started to hike out but it was slow. The stretcher turned out to be next to useless due to the extremely rough terrain and the heavy weight of the stretcher. After a few river crossings we abandoned the stretcher completely. After that it was completely up to M. Tye and D supported her and helped her where they could but a lot of the trail was simply too narrow for more than one hiker. So M did the only thing that she could do…she crawled.
M crawled for over a three-quarters of a mile up hills and down hills. Over rocks, and sticks, and brush. And she was so incredibly tough! Not once during the entire time of going through waterways, down cliffs, over hills, etc., did I once hear M complain, whimper, or cry. She was a total rock.
A little before 7pm we stopped to discuss the situation. We still had over two miles to go and not a lot of daylight left. Tye and I had enough emergency provisions for two people but there were four of us (M & D didn’t have any). We hoped that the group that had passed us had called Search and Rescue but maybe they hadn’t. And even if they had, they wouldn’t have been able to tell them where we were. So we made a tough call. We would give M & D all of our emergency provisions (extra socks, clothes, food, medicine, emergency blankets, a lighter, etc.) and Tye and I would try to make it out of the canyon.
Tye and D carried M to a cozy place under a rock ledge that would help to keep them warm and dry that night. We got contact information, said our goodbyes, and started to book it. Tye and I knew that we only had about an hour of sunlight left and so we practically ran through the canyon. We hiked as fast as we could through the obstacle course of rocks, plant life, and river. We huffed up and down the hills. Jumped and hopped across boulders in the river, trying to stay dry. And then night came.
Lost in the Dark
We were soon plunged into darkness with only our headlamps lighting the treacherous trail before us. A trail that constantly disappeared into a river that we could no longer see the bottom of. At one point we lost the trail completely and couldn’t see a good place to cross the river. At that point, we prayed.
God must have heard us because right after that I scampered up a steep hill in front of us and looked down to see the trail on the other side. So we kept on going. We came to another part where the trail just disappeared. So we tried scampering up and over again. Only this time we were met with a cliff wall on the other side that we couldn’t climb over. So we scampered back and on our way I fell and rolled over a cactus with my arm.
It was dark. I had cactus needles all over my arm and some in my side. We were running out of drinking water. And the trail was gone. It was dark.
And then there was light. Somewhere up above us someone was shining a flashlight at us and signaling. Tye signaled back to let them know that we saw them and with renewed hope we kept going. We travelled back up the river to find a good spot to cross and were able to hop across. And then we finally spotted the trail out, it was across the river with nowhere to cross.
Knowing that someone was waiting for us and that the canyon exit was right in front of us, Tye and I were willing to go into the river. At that point we knew that we wouldn’t die of hypothermia from getting wet and we knew that there was no other way. So we both grabbed staffs, linked arms, and slowly traversed the rushing water. The water was deep, moving swiftly, and the ground was slippery, but we made it through.
After that we had to zig-zag our way up 400 feet of old volcanic rock but we finally made it to that light and to the ranger that was holding it. We gave him all of the information that he needed to get to and help M (location, medications taken, injury report, etc.) and then we repeated that information to the Medic once we got to the parking lot.
We had started our hike shortly after 7:00 am that morning and we finally left the parking lot after 11:00 pm. It had been a long, long day. We finally crashed into bed after showers and cactus needle pulling at 1:00 am. And we slept soundly.
Don’t worry, M & D also made it out of the canyon. D got a small fire going and when night came M took the painkillers and Benadryl that Tye had given her and drifted off to sleep. The medics reached them at around 2:30 am. The next morning M got to take the most exciting three-minute ride of her life in a helicopter as they airlifted her out of the canyon. She has since had surgery to fix the multiple breaks, twist, and crack of her leg and is as upbeat as ever.