Salt Lake County SAR rescues stranded climbers in Little Cottonwood Canyon, urges everyone to be prepared

Salt Lake County Sheriff's Search and Rescue volunteers brought two stranded climbers down from Little Cottonwood Canyon overnight Friday-Saturday, Oct. 22-23, 2021. Photo: SLCSO SAR/Facebook

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON, Oct. 25, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — Volunteers with Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue assisted two experienced climbers who were stranded on their descent Friday night in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

SLCSO SAR is also reminding everyone to be prepared for shorter days, colder temperatures, and rough weather before venturing out for a climb or hike in the Wasatch.

“The experienced pair had set out around 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon to attempt The Thumb, a classic multi-pitch route in Little Cottonwood Canyon,” a SAR news release says.

After they finished the climb, the two began their descent in the dark. Being unfamiliar with the terrain or the descent route, however, they became disoriented and “cliffed out on rappel,” according to the news release.

They also had no headlamps, food or water, and only had light clothing and limited remaining cellphone battery life, but were able to call 911 for help.

SAR crews were called out at 11:56 p.m. Friday.

“Using a GPS location from the 911 call and a phone conversation with the stuck climbers who described where they thought they were, SLCOSAR deployed two mountain teams at around 12:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 23rd, equipped with technical climbing gear, ropes, extra lights and warm clothing for the stranded climbers, and rain gear for the storm that was expected to arrive early in the morning,” SAR said in the release.

A Department of Public Safety helicopter also was called to assist.

One rescue team started ascending Plumbline Gulley, which is the standard descent route for the climb, according to SAR. The team wanted to get above the stranded climbers, while a second team tried to make contact with them from below the GPS location. This attempt was unsuccessful.

The DPS helicopter arrived at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday and was able to give an updated GPS location for the stranded climbers, “more than a quarter-mile away and several hundred vertical feet higher than the original coordinate.”

The new location was actually nearer to the top of Plumbline and was directly above the first team, which reached the stranded climbers at about 5 a.m. The stranded pair was borderline hypothermic, but otherwise uninjured.

“After some rewarming, the climbers and rescue team began several pitches of roped lowers and rappels through Plumbline Gulley, where they were met near the bottom by the second team for the short walk back to the command post,” the SAR news release says.

Everyone was off the mountain by about 8:30 a.m., “with only the last half-hour in the rain.” The rescue took 8.5 hours, SAR said.

A final note from SLCSO SAR:

“While autumn can be a fantastic time to climb in the Wasatch, the days are shorter, nights are dark and cold, and the weather can be unforgiving. High winds ahead of the storm meant a helicopter hoist was not a viable option, and the later start to the rain was a welcome surprise for everyone; rock fall, slick surfaces and colder temperatures would have significantly increased the risk to all parties if the storm had come in on schedule.

“SLCOSAR encourages everyone to be prepared with the proper equipment and knowledge of the route and time required to complete it.”


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