Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 2, 2014

In this treacherous terrain

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:50 pm
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Upheaval Dome area is full of cliffs, as seen from this overflight photo I took last week.

Upheaval Dome area is full of cliffs, as seen from this overflight photo I took last week.

Walking two by two in the pitch-black, by starlight and headlamp, we repeatedly called the name of someone we’d never met. An elderly man had wandered away from his RV two hours before sunset without jacket, water, or food. Temperatures are still getting down below freezing each night; he wouldn’t survive until morning if we failed to find him.

Our three “hasty teams” of park rangers got to the trailhead first and began searching in the most likely places — along the steep, cliff-edged Syncline trail — while awaiting search-and-rescue personnel from over an hour away. I’d walked this perilous stretch many times, always in daylight. The new moon afforded no luxury of shadows, and our thin arc of headlamp light gave barely a hint of the chasm a few yards away. Our radios worked only intermittently in these canyons. My imaginative hiking partner presumed a hungry mountain lion lurked nearby, while I was more concerned about our nocturnal rattlesnakes.

I had returned from a long run just before the knock on my door requesting searchers, and was tired, but someone’s life was on the line. As I sat down on a rock ledge to dig in my pack for a chocolate soy milk box, the thup-thup of the arriving helicopter brought encouragement: sixty thousand lumens of light! The K-9 unit, 34 searchers from two counties, and an ambulance crew were already on scene. It was now a race against the clock.

Finding a solo male boot track in a wet sandy wash, we radioed it in. They already had found excellent prints and were on the man’s trail, so we went to the highest exposed point of rock to relieve the very chilled radio relay team. Our job was now to monitor radio traffic and pass messages to and from those without coverage in lower canyons.

High on Upheaval Dome, Emma and I turned off our headlamps and watched the helicopter make pass after pass along the ridge line, shining its spotlight in an area of interest. The pilot’s impressive skills awed us as he hovered over one spot, searching, searching. The radio crackled with news that a person was hunkered down on all fours, not moving; ground rescuers plotted the pilot’s GPS coordinates and soon reached a very cold and disoriented subject. Six hours in, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. It would be several more hours before all personnel were cleared from the scene.

Sleep was fitful. An hour after sunrise, I was opening the visitor center and welcoming our first guests. “Your park seems rather quiet,” one said. With a heart overflowing with gratitude, I could only murmur, “We prefer it that way.”

 

 

 

 

September 17, 2010

Rattlesnake 1, Frenchman -15

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:42 pm
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I had not been back from the wilderness for even an hour this morning when the radio started to crackle. Soon I heard an ambulance racing up into the park, lights and sirens ablaze. A tour bus full of French visitors had stopped at Balanced Rock, one of our least dangerous and most innocuous locations. One unfortunate 63-year-old had stepped off the sidewalk by about fifteen feet to click a photo, and was bitten in the ankle by a rattlesnake. He was already having difficulty talking and had a pulse of 150. The local hospital couldn’t help him much, as antivenin is available only if one knows exactly which species inflicted the bite*, so he was helicoptered to Grand Junction, Colorado. I expect he’ll be in the hospital for a week or ten days and then have a long, slow convalescence. Kind of ruins his American vacation.

Was it one of our shy Midget Faded Rattlesnakes? They are nocturnal, except that sometimes the males are out scouting for new territory this time of year and perhaps one was just there to get stepped on. Or, perhaps it was an atypical species of rattler (not our small shy one) that was just passing through. It makes treating the victim difficult.

You don’t want to mess with our Midget Faded. Shy, yes; benign, no. Their neurotoxin is one of the most potent of rattlesnake venoms. The typical effect of a bite from a Crotalus species is similar to most viper bites with massive edema (swelling) and tissue destruction. I hope the man from France recovers fully and quickly.

This is only the second known venomous snakebite in our national park, but the maps around here are filled with place names like “Rattlesnake Canyon.” I guess if you come to Utah, you’re taking a risk…

*(see comment #3 below)

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