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Thread: OOPS!!!!

  1. #1


    I remember this deal.... the guys messed up and entered Heaps through Gunsight thinking they were dropping into that waste of a good day some call Behunin.... OOPS!!!

    It's easier to get into Heaps Canyon than to get out
    By Shane Farver
    Sierra Club March/April 2010

    In the depths of Zion National Park, Ray Miller searches for redemption.

    He trudges forward with more than 40 pounds of wetsuit, rope, water bottles, and other equipment strapped to his back. His friends, Casey Hunter and Jon Rockwood, trail a few yards behind.

    Dust thickens the 104-degree air on this June day. The sun beats the stone monoliths, the cottonwoods, and the hikers' shoulders. The three walk past skittish whiptail lizards and up white sandstone switchbacks into the belly of Zion, into Heaps Canyon.

    It was just such a June day in 2006 when Miller left a companion for dead, far down in the twists of Heaps.

    As the morning sun reached over the Zion Canyon Visitor Center on May 31, 2006, sleepy-eyed tourists waited in line for permits to explore the park's secret alcoves--the Subway, Keyhole, Pine Creek, and other treasures. Among the throng were Miller and his friend Nathan Cresswell. A chance encounter with Nolan Porter, an acquaintance of Cresswell's, had sparked a plan: The three would tackle Behunin, a classic slot canyon that offers simple challenges for moderately experienced canyoneers.

    All three fit that description, more or less. Porter had been canyoneering for five years, but a lightning strike had robbed him of feeling below the knees. He was plagued by chronic pain and sometimes needed morphine to control it.

    Miller was a good climber but not an advanced canyoneer. Nevertheless, he deemed himself skilled enough for what he thought would be an easy day trip.

    Cresswell was to lead the expedition. He had plugged the coordinates for Behunin Canyon into his GPS and had a guidebook and a description of the canyon he'd found on the Internet. He'd also printed out a map of their destination--but only of the immediate area. Failing to bring a map showing Behunin's larger context, he later said, "was definitely my worst mistake."

    After getting their permit, the three packed food, water, and gear for a day trip. They left soon after dawn the next morning, slogging up the 21 switchbacks of Walter's Wiggles. Bypassing the popular but vertigo-inducing Angels Landing, they continued past spiny yucca and into stands of pine, pausing briefly to chat with a backpacker before moving on. According to Cresswell's GPS, Behunin Canyon appeared to be farther up the trail. What he didn't know was that Zion's layers of canyon and cliff make pinpointing a particular spot on the twisting trails a challenge. In fact, the entrance to Behunin was just paces from where they had spoken to the backpacker.

    The three saw a canyon with black mineral stains that Cresswell thought he recognized from a description of Behunin. There was also some fixed protection to rappel off. "This must be our canyon," said Miller.

    They roped up and started down. In canyoneering, after a rappel is complete, you pull the rope from its anchor. The snap of the falling rope signifies one thing: The only way out is down. "Once you pull that rope, you're committed," Porter said. "There's no going back."

    They forged on, rappel after rappel. After six hours, the end should have been near, but the canyon wound onward. As the sun arced over the steep canyon walls toward twilight, they began to question whether they were in the right place. But they pushed on, and Heaps Canyon opened its jaws wider.

    Serious canyoneers aspire to canyons like Heaps. It demands technical rope skills, climbing ability, and swimming. Most who attempt it spend the night and finish on the second day. Among Heaps's many hazards: falling rock, heat exhaustion, and a nearly 300-foot free rappel at the end. The greatest danger, ironically, is the cold. Even when outside temperatures top 100 degrees, sunshine fails to warm the frigid pools in its narrow depths. That's why most canyoneers tackling Heaps bring wetsuits or drysuits

    Bo Beck has been a search-and-rescue volunteer at Zion for 14 years and has been through Heaps a dozen times. The danger of hypothermia, he noted, lies not only in lowered body temperature but also in the diminished mental capacity that comes with it. "That canyon is not a spot you want to be lacking in physical and mental capacity," he said.

    With the sun disappearing, the dry canyon the adventurers had expected turned out to feature a series of pools. Miller and Porter swam through the first of many potholes, while Cresswell avoided the water by scurrying up a ledge and rappelling down past it. Miller, who was now freezing and said he had to keep moving, came back to help Cresswell finish the rappel. Porter was already hypothermic--because of his injury, he couldn't retain body heat well. He too needed to move.

    Cresswell refused to continue. He could see more water ahead and knew that getting wet with night coming on was the perfect recipe for hypothermia. He chose to stay dry and hunker down for the night.

    "Oh hell," Miller thought. He sprinted around in an effort to keep warm. Then he heard Porter calling for help. He packed up a rope and ascenders--devices for climbing back up a rope--and headed down the canyon.

    Porter was perched on a damp log jammed just above the water in a narrow section of the canyon. Balancing on that thin bit of safety, he had used an emergency kit to start a fire. Now that he was out of the water, he claimed to be fine, but Miller knew better. "Nolan, we need to get you out of there," he said. "If you don't get out of there, you're going to die."

    Getting Porter to dry land meant first getting him back into the water. Porter balked. Finally Miller coaxed him back through the icy potholes. Using the rope and the ascenders, the two inched their way back to Cresswell. The three gathered what branches they could find, spread out a tarp and an emergency blanket, and huddled around their fire for a fitful night's sleep.

    The next morning they hiked up to the ridge in a section of the canyon known as the Crossroads. They hoped to be able to climb out but found only an insurmountable cliff.

    Now it was Porter who refused to keep going. "Rule number one that any Boy Scout will tell you is that if you're lost, stay put," he said. Miller, however, was determined to get out. For this 24-year-old, waiting for help would be the ultimate humiliation: He saw himself as a rescuer, not the rescued. He eventually agreed that Porter should stay put, but tried to convince Cresswell that together they could find help. He saw himself as Porter's hope for survival. "My job was to save Nolan," he said.

    Cresswell, pulled between the two, finally decided to follow Miller. "I figured Nolan would probably be all right, so I made a choice to go with Ray because I figured he had a better chance of getting through the water with two people," he said.

    Porter set to work constructing a distress signal by tearing up his reflective emergency blanket and placing the pieces around a beacon fire. He kept another piece to hold up as needed. The contest of wills between Miller and Porter had taken its toll, and their separation was not an amicable one. Already missing his morphine, Porter settled in to wait.

    With no drinking water and only an orange for food, Miller and Cresswell made their way back into the frigid water. At least they had a neon poncho Porter had given them. They came to a 30-foot rappel, descended, and pulled the rope. There was no turning back.

    Dozens of sandstone potholes dimple the floor of Heaps Canyon. Seven or eight of them are "keeper" holes, where smooth sandstone offers little traction. In years when snowmelt and rainfall are low, the water drops to levels that make it nearly impossible to get out. Luckily, it had been a wet year.

    Miller and Cresswell wound through the labyrinth, Miller getting somewhat ahead. He exited one difficult pothole and slid down to the next, out of Cresswell's view. He didn't know that Cresswell, unable to find the hidden exit, assumed he was in a dead end. Cresswell cried out in panic "like a wounded dog," Miller said.

    But Miller had already moved on to the next pothole. "I can't come back up," he yelled to Cresswell. "You've got to get out or you're going to die! Come on! Go! Pull out! You can do it! Just kick!"

    Cresswell's pleas for help turned into silence.

    Miller waited on a small ledge, water rushing over his feet, for what felt like eternity. Faced with hypothermia and believing his companion to be dead, Miller decided that he had two choices: wait and risk dying himself or leave immediately to increase his chances of survival. "I kind of just left--turned my back and ran away," he said. "It was the worst feeling I've ever had in my life."

    As Miller's second day in Heaps Canyon gave way to night, rescuers had already found Porter. A helicopter searching nearby Refrigerator Canyon had spotted the reflection off the pieces of his emergency blanket and signal fire. They dropped supplies and a radio; Porter told them that Cresswell and Miller were farther down the canyon.

    Meanwhile, Miller had established a routine: walk, crawl, pass out. When darkness fell, he tore branches from nearby bushes to make a bed. As he lay down, he heard the impossible coming from behind--footsteps.

    Cresswell had survived. Miller ran to greet him, grabbing his gear and helping him into the branches, where the two lay shivering. They did little talking; their silence came from exhaustion, but also from deeper wounds.

    Only later would Miller learn what had happened. After Miller left, Cresswell summoned what little strength he had to find the exit to the pothole and throw himself over a rock. He talked himself into getting into the next pothole. Then the canyon began whispering inside his head: "Just give up." The voice nearly won, but Cresswell found the will to go on by thinking of his family, particularly his brother, who was graduating from high school that same day.

    Safe in the branches, Miller and Cresswell heard the wonderful whir of a helicopter. Soon they saw it and waved the neon rain poncho Porter had given them. The helicopter dropped a supply bag. "Is this the lower Heaps party?" the dropped radio squawked into Cresswell's ear. For the first time he understood where they were and what danger they had been in.

    "Ray, we're in Heaps, man," Cresswell said in disbelief. "We're in Heaps."

    They had to decide whether to wait 12 hours for rescue or to continue by themselves. Being so close to the end, they chose to finish on their own the next morning. But first they requested extra rope and drysuits. They would not move a step without drysuits.

    Zion search-and-rescue contacted Bo Beck to help guide Miller and Cresswell out. Early the morning of the third day, Beck hiked up to the Upper Emerald Pool, where Heaps Canyon ends, and made radio contact. Based on the pair's description of their surroundings, he determined that they were only 200 to 300 yards from the last series of rappels. "I just went, 'They're almost done. They're out of there. They didn't even need the drysuits,'" Beck said.

    He talked Miller and Cresswell through a short but spooky climb and coached them down the last set of cliffs, ending with the dramatic, nearly 300-foot free rappel. Crowds of tourists huddled around the pool cheered as Miller and then Cresswell made their way down the rope. Rescuers had picked up Porter in a helicopter that morning, shaking his hand and telling him he had done the right thing.

    Today another crowd is gathered at the Upper Emerald Pool as three helmeted figures appear high above at a notch in the rock. First, Casey Hunter rappels down and untangles a nest of rope. Jon Rockwood follows. Finally, Miller descends. This crowd cheers too. Tackling Heaps Canyon "the right way" has restored Miller's confidence in himself and his abilities. As for his first experience there, he says, "it feels like a lifetime ago."

    A year and a half after the original ordeal, Miller happened upon Porter at Waterfall Canyon Climbing Park in Ogden, Utah. There he finally acknowledged that Porter had made the right choice by staying put. "I could see this kid had learned so much from that time," Porter said. Miller went on to take summer jobs as a canyoneering guide at a resort near Zion. "When you mess up, you want to redeem yourself," he said. "You don't want that hanging over you."

    Still hanging over Miller, however, is his abandonment of Cresswell. The Heaps experience hit Cresswell hard. Soon after returning home to Woods Cross, Utah, he woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, his heart beating furiously. The emotions he had suppressed while in the canyon flooded into him. He has since overcome the trauma and is hoping for his own chance to confront the monster that nearly claimed his life. "I have to slay that demon, you know?" he said. But he wouldn't do it with Miller: "I felt I made the choice to go with him through this water to help him out, and then he went by himself and chose to save himself," he said.

    "Self-preservation was just way easier for me than saving somebody else," Miller said. "That's got to be the hardest thing. To admit that is just ridiculously hard. I don't know if I'll ever forgive myself completely for leaving him." That kind of redemption, he said, will have to come not from Heaps Canyon but from deep within himself.

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  3. #2
    Miller and Cresswell wound through the labyrinth, Miller getting somewhat ahead. He exited one difficult pothole and slid down to the next, out of Cresswell's view. He didn't know that Cresswell, unable to find the hidden exit, assumed he was in a dead end. Cresswell cried out in panic "like a wounded dog," Miller said.

    But Miller had already moved on to the next pothole. "I can't come back up," he yelled to Cresswell. "You've got to get out or you're going to die! Come on! Go! Pull out! You can do it! Just kick!"
    Seems kind of douchey to get ahead, especially to move past an obstacle without ensuring your partner can as well. Obviously not working well as a team. And then to just leave without attempting to help? I don't get that. Can't imagine walking away from my team in mid-canyon.
    Maybe it's my own character flaw but if my partner is stuck in a pothole there's a good chance that's where you'll find both of us.

  4. #3
    Good read. I can only imagine how it would feel if I were in their shoes? I hope friendship stays strong between these three guys. Decision making in very adverse conditions is a bitch, and it is sometimes tougher to face up to them after the fact. I say Kudos to the three of you for not giving up. Amazing how impending disaster tested your strong will to survive and, you persevered. Good on you guys!

  5. #4
    Bogley BigShot oldno7's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    We're all here, because we ain't all there.
    Your very humble Bo-----
    But "good on you and Zion SAR"
    You guys have a positive impact on all who know you.

  6. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by oldno7
    Your very humble Bo-----
    But "good on you and Zion SAR"
    You guys have a positive impact on all who know you.
    Thanks Kurt. I certainly enjoy taking part and always am relieved when it is a positive outcome! Am looking forward to and hoping for a "Slow" season at the Park!

  7. #6
    Good read to a great ending.

    I need to hang out with Bo more. Mabey some of his legendariness will rub off on me. Legendariness is a word...I swear.
    The man thong is wrong.

  8. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Jaxx
    Good read to a great ending.

    I need to hang out with Bo more. Mabey some of his legendariness will rub off on me. Legendariness is a word...I swear.
    After browsing the thread about the snowboarder at the olympics, not too sure "hanging out" is such a good idea after all!? Cheers!

  9. #8
    Zions the "s" is silent trackrunner's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    indoors wanting to be outdoors
    Having done Heaps with Bo I can see where he gets the name Mr. Heaps. Mr. Heaps is Bo

  10. #9

    Re: OOPS!!!!

    Quote Originally Posted by Iceaxe
    "Self-preservation was just way easier for me than saving somebody else," Miller said. "
    That does define the distinction between self-centeredness and selfless altruism. I know what I would hope I would do in that situation. But I recognize that its hard to know if for sure if placed in a similar scenario.
    Only Dead Fish Go With The Flow

  11. #10
    That was a very very intense read! Very well written. There were however a lot of complaints about it on: I am not sure which one to beleive. All I know is that I liked the read and I learned a lot about canyoneering from it just like most scarey experiences! I really hope that all the people involved in this story are alright and that it doesn't hurt too much to relive this. I would really really like to hear the Story from Ray Miller! If anyone knows where that is that would be awesome if I could see that. If not then he should really think about posting his own version of what transpired out there. I have never been so hypothermic that my judgement became impared, but I can imagine that that would be one of the hardest things to deal with.
    Murphy's Law: "If anything can go wrong, it will."

  12. #11
    This is probably the most telling of the comments...

    Nathan Cresswell said...

    Someone wanted to hear from the Horses mouth. Nathan Cresswell here. Let it be stated that I never was the one that wanted to have a big publication about such a life trying experience filled with tons of human mistakes. I did stay involved knowing that it would be better if they had direct information. I do hope people can learn from it.

    I do want to thank Bo for being involved and giving insight into the comments here and for Keeping me alive today. Bo and the rescue crue were put into situations that they had to risk their lives to save me. I owe Bo and the rest of the rescue crew my life.

    I do understand the difficulties on the journalistic side of writing something like this. This article was writen by a person that was not in the canyon with us so I am not sure what people expected. You need to put a human connection and record emotions to make it a peice worth reading. I feel Shane [Farver] did what he did with it and the article is what it is.

    This experience was one of the scariest most difficult experiences of my life. It deeply effected me and has changed my perspective on many things. I can't speak for everyone involved but, I made a number of mistakes. An article was written about a life changing experience filled with mistakes how great can anyone look?

    Traysa and Bo obviously I have experience hypothermia and been pushed on my natural thresh hold. I heard things, I saw things, I could not move my body, my jaw was completely locked, and it was not enjoyable. I can attest that you are not the same person people see every day.

    Some people may want an update on my relationship with these guys. We all were never socially the best of friends so I would say it has not changed much. I spoke with both guys off and on threw the years. None of us have ever done anything like this together since. There were some plans to go back and conquer the demons with Nolan, another friend that I know, and had plans to invite Ray but, the timing and things it fell through.

    It is not that any of us have hatred for each other but, when you see people pushed to almost what you beleive could be death you see a different side. Being an outdoor enthusiast you have to understand you have to make choices of who you depend your life to. I would and have hung out with guys. Would I trust my life with them who knows. If we involved another outside person sure. I would bet they feel the same about me.

    The article is published take what you can from it. Prepare yourself everyday and don't get lost like I did.

    I am alive thanks to everyone that loves me.

    please don't edit this remark I am sure it is not perfect.

  13. #12
    Content Provider Emeritus ratagonia's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Quiet and charming: Mount Carmel
    Here's a straighter version of the story:

    Zion National Park News Release
    June 2 , 2006
    David Eaker 435-772-7811
    Three Hikers Rescued from Heaps Canyon in Zion National

    Three overdue hikers, canyoneering in the backcountry of Zion
    National Park, were located and rescued by park search and
    rescue teams. The three hikers, Nolan Porter, Ogden, Utah;
    Nathan Cresswell, Woods Cross, Utah; and Ray Miller, Salt Lake
    City, Utah were successfully rescued from Heaps Canyon on
    Friday, June 2, 2006. The hikers apparently entered the wrong
    canyon when they relied upon Global Positioning Units to find
    their location instead of maps. They then became stranded when
    the equipment they had was not sufficient to complete the
    required rappels. There were no injuries to the rescued hikers.
    The three hikers obtained a permit for canyoneering in Behunin
    Canyon on Wednesday, May 31. They were reported overdue late
    Wednesday and a hasty search was conducted without locating
    the hikers. The following day a search team traveled the length of
    Behunin Canyon but did not locate the three hikers. A Bureau of
    Land Management helicopter then joined the search and the
    search area was expanded to include Heaps Canyon to the west of
    Behunin Canyon . One of the hikers was located in Heaps Canyon
    and a pack containing food, water, a park radio and a sleeping bag
    was lowered to him. Through radio conversations, the hiker
    confirmed that he was uninjured and did not require immediate

    The remaining two hikers were located farther down Heaps
    Canyon and supplies were also lowered to them. With darkness
    approaching, search and rescue operations were suspended for the
    night but resumed on Friday morning. Through radio
    conversations, the two hikers indicated they wanted to complete
    the canyoneering route. Additional rope and climbing gear were
    lowered to them and they successfully completed their descent
    into the Upper Emerald Pools area on Friday morning.
    A park ranger reached the remaining hiker and took him to a
    location where the helicopter could land. He was then transported
    by helicopter to Zion Canyon . None of the hikers required
    medical attention.

    Visitors are reminded that hiking, canyoneering, and climbing in
    the park can be dangerous and should not be underestimated.
    Good planning, proper equipment, and sound judgment are
    essential for a safe and successful trip. Hikers should check in
    with a park ranger about all backcountry routes, leave a good
    itinerary and contact information in case of emergency, and notify
    family or friends of their plans and expected completion time.
    Permits are required for all overnight climbs or hikes in the park,
    as well as all technical canyoneering routes.

    -NPS Press Release-

    Heaps of Fun

    (from an interview with Nathan Cresswell, July 2006, by Tom

    Nathan and Ray headed down to Zion for a casual weekend of
    canyons, Behunin and Spry the likely suspects. Nathan hadn't
    been out for quite some time, and this would be his first time
    really leading the canyon, so he researched both canyons and
    printed out maps from the internet. He used both Kelsey's book
    and Tom's online guide, and had picked out GPS points on the
    map himself.

    In the permit line, they ran into Nolan, a friend of a friend who
    was going to solo Pine Creek or something. "Come with us" they
    said. "OK" said Nolan. They headed up the trail, and got to
    talking, and before they knew it, were at the West Rim Spring.
    Nathan pulled out the map and the GPS, and they continued on up
    the Rim Trail. The GPS points weren't really close, but they
    kinda made sense. They cut down a ridge and could see the big
    streaked wall they remembered from the website

  14. #13
    That was another good read! That was definately more of just the facts and not a story, but I thought both of them were good reads! And thanks Ice for that quote. I would really like to hear one from Ray if that is possible! He should tell us his side of the entire story if he feels up to it and doesn't mind reliving it!
    Murphy's Law: "If anything can go wrong, it will."

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