IVINS – A misleading map led to four people becoming lost and stranded on the Red Mountain Trail in Ivins Monday night, prompting volunteers from the Washington County Search and Rescue team to come to their aid.
Two men and two women of retirement age had purchased a map marking the Red Mountain Trail as a traversable trail and were told it would take approximately five hours to complete, Rescue Commander Mike Thomas said. In reality, he said, the trail is not marked, there are a lot of cliffs in the area, and portions of the trail require climbing.
“There is no improved, established or marked trail. You have to know where you’re going,” Thomas said.
The Red Mountain Trail has been removed from BLM and state park maps, he said, but the facility where the hikers purchased their map is still currently selling maps on which the Red Mountain Trail is marked. The search and rescue team has been working to have the trail removed from those maps, as well, Thomas said, to prevent people not familiar with the area from attempting to hike there and becoming stranded, as happened Monday night.
The hikers spent a great deal of time just trying to find the trail, he said, which cost them hours when all was said and done and greatly lengthened out what they had anticipated would be just a four- or five-hour hike.
“Because they were route-finding, it took them 10 hours,” Thomas said.
Because the hikers had only been prepared for a much shorter hike, it became dark before they were able to find their way out again. They were not equipped with flashlights or jackets, having anticipated being back well before nightfall, and they resultantly got “ledged up,” meaning they were unable to climb down from where they were, Thomas said.
“When they realized they didn’t know the way down, they were smart and called (for help),” he said.
The hikers had a cellphone and called 911 when they realized their predicament, but emergency responders hit an unusual snag after that.
When someone calls 911 from a cellphone, emergency responders are typically able to obtain GPS coordinates to help locate the person. However, the GPS coordinates obtained from this particular 911 call were inaccurate, Thomas said, and pointed responders to the middle of Ivins rather than the place where the stranded hikers actually were.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office had previously received an email alert from the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Statewide Information & Analysis Center, informing them that an unspecified kind of testing was being performed in Tonopah, Nevada, over the weekend and possibly through Monday that could throw off GPS coordinates in certain areas. This affected the search and rescue team’s ability to accurately pinpoint, using GPS, where the hikers were.
Staying in contact with the hikers by phone, emergency responders resolved the issue by flashing their emergency lights and asking the hikers if they could see them. The hikers were able to see the lights, and they responded by shining a cellphone flashlight to signal the responders. The emergency team was then able to pinpoint where on the mountain the hikers were and eventually get to them.
A team of about 10 search and rescue volunteers was ultimately able to rescue the hikers without the need of any specialized equipment. It took just over two hours to get the hikers out.
“They were probably down off the mountain by 10 (p.m.),” Thomas said.
In addition to the search and rescue team, the Santa Clara-Ivins Police Department responded to assist on the emergency call.
The lesson to learn, Thomas said, is always be prepared before departing on a hike or other recreational excursion and take things like flashlights, jackets and water.
“It’s very easy to throw a few things into a pack,” he said.
“You need to be prepared no matter what you expect, because you just never know,” he added.
Monday’s search and rescue effort marks approximately 10 such rescue missions in January so far, Thomas said. There were only about 34 rescues total last year, he said, so 2015 is off to a very busy start.
The Washington County Search and Rescue team, which operates under the direction of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, is comprised of unpaid volunteers who use their own equipment to assist in rescue situations. Though the team members do not get paid, the gratitude of someone who has been rescued is a satisfying reward at the end of a successful mission, Thomas said.
“We do this because we love it,” he said.
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