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Thread: Death in Birch Hollow

  1. #1

    Death in Birch Hollow

    Woman dies in rappelling fall in Zion National Park

    BY ERIN ALBERTY - THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
    PUBLISHED: AUGUST 19, 2013

    A West Jordan woman died after falling 120 feet while rappelling near Zion National Park.

    Shelby Collette Christensen, 19, was hiking and rappelling with a group of five about 9:30 a.m. in Birch Hollow. Three others in the group had finished the rappel and were waiting at the bottom as Christensen began her descent over the ledge.

    She apparently got her hand trapped between the rope and the rock ledge and let go, Kane County sheriff’s deputies wrote in a news statement.

    She fell 120 feet to the canyon floor, deputies wrote.

    A deputy and a Utah State Park ranger from the Coral Pink Sand Dunes met with other members of the rappelling group; the park ranger found Christensen had died at the scene. Her body was removed via helicopter.

    Birch Hollow is a popular canyoneering destination with several rappels between scenic hiking. It is about 6 miles north of State Road 9 just East of Zion National Park. Two other people have been injured rappelling there this summer. The first two happened one day apart at a different rappel. Both required a technical rescue by teams from Kane County Search and Rescue, Zion National Park, and the BLM to raise the victims to an area where they could be picked up by helicopter.

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  3. #2
    Just saw this on ksl. So sad for her family and friends. So avoidable with a couple of easy precautions. Where was the bottom belay? Three friends down already, nobody grabs the rope? Senseless.

  4. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor View Post
    So avoidable with a couple of easy precautions. Where was the bottom belay? Three friends down already, nobody grabs the rope? Senseless.
    That was my thoughts exactly.



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  6. #4
    Dammit. A life lost because a few people took it upon themselves to lead the blind as the blind and failed to realize the potential dangers involved and prepare accordingly. This shit is going to continue to happen as the "sport" becomes more popular. This is what happens when someone "knows hardcore hike in Zion's". This is what I dread and what I have eluded too in the past about being careful who we market this activity too. It spreads out of control and before long, a totally avoidable tragedy like this ends up getting sprayed on the news, piquing the curiosity of hoards of other would-be canyoneers, who in turn get in over their heads, get hurt, trash the place and get restrictions imposed for the rest of us who have taken it upon ourselves to enjoy it responsibly from the start. It's all going to end up this way. You just feel so helpless about being able to avoid this train wreck as it unfolds before us.
    What a terrible waste of a life, all for what?

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  8. #5
    Bogley BigShot oldno7's Avatar
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    condolences to her family and friends...
    I'm not Spartacus


    It'll come back.


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  9. #6
    So unfortunate and, from what the news indicates so far, seems like it could have been easily avoidable if precautions had been taken. Condolences to the family and to all those involved.
    - Gavin

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  11. #7
    Moderator jman's Avatar
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    We should be careful in harsh judgement of the group - we don't know all the details. But, I do think we all agree that a bottom belay (always for noobs) would of prevented this. Maybe the other 3 men were taking pictures/videos? I dunno.

    At the very least if you are going to post something try to show some class and respect for a family who lost their daughter. I agree though, it's way too young to go.
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  12. #8
    Horrible. Very tragic. My best friend lost her daughter in a skiing accident, and I can only compare what this family is going through now.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends.

    Lots of questions. So easy to use your other hand to hold the rope or grab the ledge. Why no bottom belay? Was she the most experienced in the group? Or, how much experience did she have prior?

    It seems Birch is seeing a lot of accidents. Why?

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  14. #9
    I have only canyoneered with a select group of people. So, I don't know what "everyone else does" but I see a lot of weak belay techniques on canyoneering videos. I personally have had the rope ripped right out of my hand on bottom belay on more than one occasion. I take my kids regularly. I have an 8 year old that raps over 100 feet regularly on her own. When on belay, I belay like a climber with the rope attached to my harness and in the rappel device, dishing out the rope as it is needed. In so cal the granite gets really, really slippery and it is really easy to fall and loose the rope.
    Just my two cents.
    Prayers to the family.

  15. #10
    That drop has a lot of rockfall danger. It might be the reason for no bottom belay, but I am just speculating.

    condolences to her family and friends

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  17. #11
    Sad and unfortunate. It's somewhat surprising that enough speed could be generated, while on rappel, to cause a fatality from that height. What negligent teammates. Yikes.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bootboy View Post
    This is what I dread and what I have eluded too in the past about being careful who we market this activity too.
    Since when did we start marketing to a target audience? How should we be careful about this alleged marketing? Please explain.

    Any fun, scenic, exciting, social way to pass the time is going to spread rapidly by word-of-mouth. Canyoneering is no exception. Just like climbing, or skydiving with a squirrel suit, the responsibility lies with the user.
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  18. #12
    Bootboy - exactly who do you believe ought to be able to canyoneer? I've seen enough posts where you rail against the "tourons" who ruin "your" canyons and outdoor spaces. Who deserves to enjoy the canyons? You? Only people born in Utah? What sort of barriers to entry would you like to erect to keep your canyons exclusive?
    You May All Go To Hell And I Will Go To Texas

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  20. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Mountaineer View Post
    It seems Birch is seeing a lot of accidents. Why?
    Several reasons.... High traffic canyon, noob friendly canyon, noobs leading noobs, lack of Zion permits.

    Beginner canyons always have a higher percentage of accidents because that is where we keep the beginners.


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  22. #14
    Dat sucks... Especially since she wasn't the 1st down and someone couldda belayed her safely. Bummer news.
    Your safety is not my responsibility.

  23. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Iceaxe View Post
    lack of Zion permits.

    You did NOT just say that!
    Life is Good

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  25. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Iceaxe View Post
    Several reasons.... High traffic canyon, noob friendly canyon, noobs leading noobs,


    Previous accidents were 1) noob simul - rapping 2) noob 1st person rappelling. Only way that should EVER happen is if whole group is noobs. It might not be wise to simul rap with noob anytime unless with backup safety, ya think? But hey everyone was once a noob - can't really stop inexperienced people from getting into trouble if they insist on going alone, whether on land, sea, or air. Hopefully they would ask for advice and help and go cautious. But what is the responsibility of those experienced who lead or take along noobs? This seems to go on an awful lot. Even in these meetup groups. Last year I met 2 experienced friends at NoWash who had been there few days early doing canyons with the NoWash Rend group. Their description was an accident waiting to happen. Disorganized - no vetting of people to at least know who is capable of what, etc. One time a guy who did not even know how to put on a harness was lead along on trip. Really??? The former, noobs going it alone, can only be mitigated - you cannot stop or even outlaw. And we have seen unfortunately several accidents and/or deaths. Just so sad. But latter goes on wayyyy too often. This can and maybe should be addressed- it's the tricky part because now I/we have to take responsibility. I view it in a positive light- we are partners going thru canyons and just like we assist each other out of potholes we do the same with safe actions. Any partner can call me out and likewise - it soon becomes 2nd nature.

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  27. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Card View Post
    You did NOT just say that!
    I know some of the Zion area accidents/SAR's are the result of canyoneers getting pushed into canyons beyond their skill and/or preparation level (technically, physically, navigationally) because of lack of permits. I'm not saying that was a factor in this particular accident, but I know it has been a factor in other Zion area accidents and SAR's, which was the question asked.


  28. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by xxnitsuaxx View Post
    Bootboy - exactly who do you believe ought to be able to canyoneer?
    Lets start with people who know what the hell they're doing.

    Like you've got all the answers to this inevitability....

  29. #19
    I'm saddened by someone dying recreating in a beautiful area (Birch Hollow). Like others who have already commented; I too, wonder why there was not a bottom belay. I consider myself an experienced canyoneer and the group I do canyons with are all experienced, also. Even experienced canyoneers make mistakes i.e. the death that occurred on the last rappel in Heaps a few years ago. In my group after the first person is down, he sets up a belay for the rest of the group. Easy to do and it just makes sense. One last comment: A permit system would not have prevented this since the Park Service doesn't ask nor does it care about experience before issuing a permit. Buyer Beware!
    This is the Place!!!

  30. #20
    One thing for all of us to remember is that canyoneering doesn't allow a large margin for error. As human beings we're inclined to make little mistakes, but canyoneering just isn't forgiving of such mistakes. Think about driving a car, especially when you were just beginning. Being in reverse instead of forward and dinging someones bumper. Panicking and hitting the accelerator instead of the brake. Mis-judging distance or conditions and side-swiping someone else. But in cars we have a lot of protection.

    Perhaps it's all the worse because people can go canyoneering without reading a manual or getting in some good training with an experienced canyoneer. All of us who have experience can use these accidents and tragedies to remind ourselves not to get cocky. And maybe we can be more willing to share our knowledge with people who are starting out. We all love canyoneering, so it shouldn't be hard to see why others would want to get into it. Here's to getting good training, helping others stay safe, and taking nothing for granted.
    Last edited by phinux; 08-20-2013 at 05:36 PM. Reason: spelling/grammar

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