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Hiker trapped by quicksand in Zion Park. It was a ‘frigid’ overnight rescue, rangers say

Rescue team saves man stuck in quicksand at Zion National Park

Rescue teams arrived at Zion National Park to save a 34-year-old hiker whose leg got stuck in quicksand.
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Rescue teams arrived at Zion National Park to save a 34-year-old hiker whose leg got stuck in quicksand.

An Arizona hiker got trapped Saturday in quicksand in a creek at Utah’s Zion National Park, and the rescue — complicated by a snow storm — dragged into Sunday, according to park rangers.

The 34-year-old man was hiking up the left fork of North Creek in the scenic park when his leg sunk to the knee in the quicksand, the park said in a news release. He and a fellow hiker tried to free his leg but failed — so the other hiker left the trapped man behind with ”warm gear and clothing,” and she set out for help. It took three hours for her to get cell service and call 911.

Rangers said they learned of the trapped hiker Saturday afternoon, and quickly got together a search and rescue team to track down the man, park officials said. But first, rangers found the companion hiker who had called 911. They treated her near the trailhead for symptoms of hypothermia after her three-hour trek.

It took several more hours for the rescue team to reach the man in quicksand, who they discovered in stable condition but with symptoms of hypothermia and exposure.

Pulling the man’s leg out of the quicksand — which was right in the middle of a creek — took two more hours, rangers said. By that point it was late at night.

Following a remarkably dry spring, hiking season is already upon us in the Northwest. This video provides some simple advice to make your journey more enjoyable.

Snow fell on the man and search team all night at the rescue site, where rangers treated the man’s leg and warmed the man against the “frigid conditions,” rangers said. Four inches of snow had accumulated by morning.

Only when there was a break in the winter storm and visibility improved could a helicopter — dispatched from Salt Lake City to help with the rescue — fly in and pick up the man on Sunday. The helicopter brought him to an ambulance that was waiting, rangers said.

The man was hospitalized, rangers said. An update on his condition wasn’t provided.

The route the hikers had traveled is called the Subway route when it’s taken from the bottom up, rangers said. The hike that direction is a strenuous nine miles. Taken from the top down, park rangers say the route “requires rappelling skills, 60 feet of rope, and extensive route finding experience.” Either direction requires hikers to get a permit. Wet or dry suits are needed for hikers to guard against the chilly waters.

Rangers warn that, in the winter at Zion, “colder temperatures, shorter days, snow, ice, and cold run-off can make easy hikes difficult and strenuous ones treacherous.”

That means park visitors should “use extreme caution” when weather is bad.

“Presidents Day Weekend is often dry, warm, and sunny,” Aly Baltrus, Zion’s Public Information Officer, said in a statement. “This year was as predicted — cold and wet.”

The national park said in a Facebook post last week that it was expecting a busy — and crowded — long weekend.

“Visitors should come prepared,” Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said in the post. “Not only for crowded conditions, but for the hikes and other activities they are planning under winter conditions. And remember that safety is your responsibility, so please avoid unsafe behaviors and risk-taking.”

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.