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Thanksgiving Grand Canyoneering, AZ
mini location map2014-11-26
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Thanksgiving Grand Canyoneering, AZ 
Thanksgiving Grand Canyoneering, AZ
Hiking avatar Nov 26 2014
Hiking18.80 Miles 2,553 AEG
Hiking18.80 Miles   7 Hrs   29 Mns   2.51 mph
2,553 ft AEG
1st trip
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Grand Canyoneering: An awesome Thanksgiving adventure followed by Black Friday

In May, I started to make plans for what was to be an introduction into Grand Canyoneering and packrafting. I studied Todd Martin's book until I put together what seemed to be an awesome itinerary. Then, I invited a pretty hard code group. This was to be Carole's first Grand Canyon trip. Most people stick to corridor trails on their first GC trip but I figured that since she survived Lemmon Canyon and had progressed into a willing canyoneering participant she would be ready! Josh, of course, is always willing to tackle just about anything we throw at him, even if it includes buying a 320 ft rope and then carrying it for miles! Steve was excited as this trip would blend his love for hiking and water sports into an awesome adventure. We were happy to have Steve along for his experience in running the Grand Canyon via raft/kayak. Unfortunately, one other friend was unable to make it at the last minute.

We practically ran down the Bright Angel to Indian Garden. We selected a site and left all our camp gear behind. As we left camp I glanced at the temperature. It was still a chilly 40 degrees in the shade. At the top of the technical section we donned on our wetsuits and took on the canyon! The beta said there was 5 rappels and we ended up doing 7. The 120 footer ended up being more like 160 and we had used a rope combination that would have worked for 120 ft but wasn't enough for 160 but we made do using webbing to lengthen the pull side. The big rappel was absolutely amazing! 400 feet of beautiful cascades that few people ever see. Even with wetsuits, we had to dance our way through Garden Canyon to keep warm. The water level wasn't too intimidating. I probably don't recommend to do this canyon in the winter but we all survived and the hike back to camp warmed us up.

Thanksgiving Day:
In the morning, we took the Tonto to Horn Creek. We entered the canyon via the arm camp was in. We did some stemming/bridging to avoid a couple pools. Other than that the canyon was mostly dry. The book mentioned two rappels but since we had done extra rappels in Garden we still brought three ropes. We used the extra one right away to get down around a chockstone in the Tapeats. We accidentally used a rope where we could have hiked around but didn't realize it until it was too late. The next rappel was off a dead mans which was some what intimidating. Steve choose not to do that rappel so we had him back up the rock pile with meat. That was especially reassuring since we had to ascend everything we rappelled this day. We didn't get to the River but we did see the rapids below the last drop. Ascending was pretty cool. That night we enjoyed an awesome sunset view that included Isis Temple, our project we completed with Karl in October.

Black Friday:
Salt Creek was more beautiful than Horn. We completed our longest rappel to date, a 260 footer. The challenge with the rappels was that we had our 50+ lb packs. I went first on both rappels. With the added weight I decided I wanted to rig my VT pursik as an autoblock above my rappel device. This way I could handle rope management without having to do a full lock off. Instead I just let the autoblock catch me and if I took both hands off my brake I would do a soft lock on my ATS. I found this method very handy. The long rappel was a lot of fun. I wish I could have done it twice! Along the way we had debated a few changes to our itinerary. One of the changes really appealed to me, staying at Salt Creek beach. Hindsight makes me wish I had stayed the course.

We got to the beach which signified the end our our technical adventures. We discussed our options again. I still liked the idea of staying there. My shoulder was tired and besides most rafting groups start looking for a camp at that time of day. We decided we'd do the packraft in the morning. We made some coffee and kicked back. But not for long, Joel was restless and wanted to do some rappel/ascending practice. He scrambled up a scree slope to access a cliff next to camp.

I nearly forgot Joel had left. I was talking to Steve when we heard some rockfall. Joel didn't yell out and I thought that was really strange. Next, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Joel was tumbling down the not quite vertical cliff. Head over heals, like a rag doll. He was obviously not conscious. I froze. Then I sprung into action by running to him. As did the others.

It was a horrible 90 foot tumble down to a pile of rocks on the beach we were camped. We quickly got to him and while taking special precautions for neck and spine injury we moved him off the rocks he landed on to Carole's air mattress (the most sturdy one of the group). Josh had cleared some brush next to a sandy spot so we didn't think Joel's neoair would last.

Watching Joel's body react to the trauma was terrifying for me. I knew he had a pulse but we had no idea what his injuries were. I could see that the skin around his eyes were instantly filling with blood. He started to breath very strangely. I kept waiting for each breath to be his last. Relieved each time another came. I don't remember how long that lasted but next came the shaking. His entire body shook. After what was probably just minutes he started to come around.

Blood was coming from his head in copious amounts so I wanted to bandage it. I removed his helmet. The outside was near pristine. The inside was another story. It had broken into many pieces. The plastic ones probably accounted for some of the cuts on Joel's head. We used a bandanna, gauze, and fob an to make a compression bandage around the wounds on his head. The bleeding still didn't stop right away and it soaked the down pillow I had placed under Joel's head.

While we worked on covering Joel, Carole started to prepare for Steve's trip down the River to get help. She knew he needed to leave before dark so she scrambled together a raft, PFD, headlamp, water, and snacks.

Steve made a heroic dusk raft down the Colorado. He covered what was going to take us beginners about an hour in only twenty minutes. Then he proceeded to hike a couple miles until a couple helped him for the night. The next day he ran until he could get cell reception along the Tonto. And even after all that he had to hike out to the Rim. Keep in mind that the day of the accident we had already hiked 4 miles on the Tonto and descended a canyon that was about 1.5-2 miles all while carrying 50+ pound packs.

Not knowing how Steve was fairing, the rest of us had to attend to Joel (keeping his back/neck straight and keeping him warm). We didn't know if or when help was coming. I kept hoping Steve made it out of the water OK. Since it was only dusk, I worked on starting a fire, just in the event aircraft would see it and maybe report an illegal fire. I knew that once it got dark we wouldn't be rescued until the next morning. Josh and Carole didn't know that. They kept the fire going well into dark. At some point I realized they did know that the helicopter wouldn't be able to fly at night and I let them know.

We knew we had to eat. I decided to have Carole make my favorite meal hoping I'd be able to eat some. I felt like I could vomit at any time but I managed to force down some food. We took shifts with Joel. Two people on while the third rested. Josh had me rest first. I laid down but I found that I couldn't rest- my shoulders were up to my ears. I'd relax them and then a few minutes later they were back up. If I closed my eyes I saw Joel tumbling down the cliff. Anxiety soared and the pressure in my chest was disheartening. I kept trying to sleep until suddenly Carole came for me. Joel had called for me. He needed water and had to pee! That seemed to be a good sign! We were unsure if we should give him water since we knew that shock victims should not be given water, but it was seeming as though the shock was wearing off. I also knew it was still a long time until we'd be rescued so keeping him hydrated was probably a good idea. I dribbled water, using Joel's Osprey bladder, into his mouth. I'd tell him to swallow and then repeat a couple times. Peeing was another challenge that we quickly figured out. A Nalgene was brought over and I ask Josh some logistic questions (I don't have one of those appendages!) and got Joel into position. Success!

We started to see a pattern progress as the night went on. Joel would start to get restless and would uncover his arms and torso. We would package him back up. He wanted to move but we explained to him that he had been in an accident and that we didn't know if he had back or neck injuries so he had to lay still. He'd be agreeable and settle down. It started to seem like we got into an endless loop of him taking his covers off and we'd rewrap him. During this we could see that his legs seemed fine. He also seemed to be able to move both his hands. I could tell that his right had was in an odd position so I figured it was broken. Joel tended to rub it when he removed his blankets so I knew it had to hurt. At some point in the night he started asking for something to take. I was scared he'd choke on pills so I decided not to give him any. He had limited vocabulary at the time but was able to successfully get us to understand. I had told Joel that a helicopter was coming for him. I didn't know if it was true or not but I thought if he had a goal it would help. I told him he had to make it to 7 AM as that was when the helicopter would come for him.

Around 8, the helicopter still hadn't come. I was starting to get nervous. I directed Josh to start the fire again and burn the tamarisk. Since it was green it would smoke which might be visible from the Rim. I also asked that they write Help on the sandy beaches to alert any coming raft parties. Josh sat on the eastern end of the beach to scan for rafts as I knew that most of them carried sat phones. Carole watched the skies. Joel started to ask the time. 8:00, 8:02, 8:04, and so on.

This trial continued until 10 AM when I heard a helicopter turn our way! Tears of joy came to my eyes. I knew Steve had succeeded in bring us help. I loved Steve with everything that was left in me at that moment! He saved Joel's life! The helicopter had finally arrived.

The rescue team asked us about our night and what had happened. We explained the best we could. They packaged Joel up and we helped them carry him to the copter.

We spoke to the guy in charge. He asked if we were capable of hiking out. We told him we could definitely hike out. What we didn't think we could do was packraft. We had no experience and the person who was going to coach us had went for help the previous night. Finally after a call to HQ we were told we could get a flight out. Yet again, I was washed with relief. That meant I would get to follow Joel sooner rather than in a day or two. The helicopter left us with instructions to pack up and be ready. About an hour went by and finally the hum of the blades was heard again. We saw the helicopter coming towards us when suddenly it turned around and went the other way down the canyon. Either it went to get Steve's packraft or another rescue was underway. Lucky for us, they grabbed the gear Steve left on the beach at Granite Rapids and then came for us.

We had to don flight suits and helmets for the quick 5 minute trip. When we took off, I was overcome by sorrow and happiness at the same time. I looked at all the terrain I hold dear and love. I was scared I would not be able to love the Canyon in the way I had previously. The tears flowed down my face as I gazed upon all the sites that I recognized: the Monument, Isis, Cheops, etc. then I was distracted by the view of the Coconino coming in fast. There was no way we were going to clear that cliff. Then at what seemed like the last second the pilot banked and we rose up above the Rim. Safe at last.

Joel ended up with a bad broken wrist, some minor spine fractures, staples in his head and cracked ribs. The concussion and fractures required him to relearn a lot of things that are normally second nature to an adult: balance, sitting, and walking.

I'm in awe regarding how everyone handled this emergency. Everyone pitched in and seemed to know what to do as if on queue. I'm so proud to know such an amazing bunch of people! I will always love Steve, Josh, and Carole. Steve's wife orchestrated the rescue from Tucson. There were also a lot of wonder rangers helping out. We were a bunch of lucky people!

Typically after we've encountered something that didn't work out as it should we think of the lessons we've learned. Not knowing what really happened say the top of the cliff makes it hard to learn from the accident. We can only assume that rocks came out from under Hoel causing him to fall and crush his wrist. Either that or a blow to his head mad him lose consciousness. We've decided that one shouldn't go off by themselves, no matter how close to the others you are. Also, having communication with the outside world is very important and a cell phone is not enough. Lastly, buy Petzl helmets! Joel's was a Helios. He will be getting the same model since it likely saved his life!

I'm very happy to say that it's looking like Joel will recover 100%. He was in the hospital in Flag 5 days. His stay at HeathSouth in Tucson looks like it will be almost 20 days in Rehab. I doubt he'll be ready for work until some in the new year. He has a mild/moderate brain injury and that will be his hardest struggle. But he will overcome it!
Search and Rescue
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