OUTDOORS + RECREATION

Volunteer describes rescuing stranded hikers (with baby) in waist-deep snow

Mar 28, 2022, 5:20 PM | Updated: 9:14 pm
Curtis Whitson and his family were rescued from a California forest after carving the word "help" o...
Curtis Whitson and his family were rescued from a California forest after carving the word "help" on a water bottle they found and tossing it in a river.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah County Sheriff Search and Rescue (UCSSAR) team members responded Saturday to a 911 call from four stranded hikers along with a 10-month-old baby on Big Baldy trail near Pleasant Grove.

UCSSAR volunteer Blake Jorgensen helped bring the hikers and baby to safety. He said the rescue squad has received two calls for help from “the exact same spot” on the mountain in two weeks.

While temperatures were nearly 80 degrees in the valley below, Big Baldy, with a summit elevation of 8,757 feet, was still blanketed in snow. Avalanche conditions were “considerable to extreme” at the elevation where the hikers were stranded.

“Folks start off on a really nice, pleasant hike. Conditions are perfect. [But] they quickly deteriorate based off of the elevation as well as the time that they’ve been out on on their hike,” Jorgensen said.

Stranded hikers need help quickly

The call for help came in about 6 p.m., Jorgensen said. He said two teams were sent up the mountain and a pilot with the Sheriff’s Office took to the skies to supply a GPS coordinate on the stranded group.

“He quickly could tell that they were in a precarious spot, [in] really deep snow up to their waist and were not advancing,” Jorgensen said. “Some of them were in shorts. All of them were in tennis shoes [and] no coats. And as a result of there being a 10-month-old, we knew time was of the essence.”

Jorgensen said a LifeFlight helicopter shuttled him and a fellow volunteer to the saddle of Big Baldy at 7 p.m. A half an hour later, the rescuers reached the stranded hikers.

“Everyone was off the mountain around 9 p.m.,” he added.

Know the conditions before you start the hike

Jorgensen explained how the hikers became stranded. They began the hike along the southwest side of Big Baldy, which was clear of snow. But the hike is steep. The hikers didn’t feel they had the stamina to descend the same way they came up so they planned to follow the route along the ridge line that descends through Dry Canyon.

“As they started to progress across the ridge line, they quickly got into snow. Even trying to turn back downhill, it just kept getting deeper and more difficult to advance. So that’s when they contacted search and rescue, Jorgensen said.

He said if you going on a hike, first check the weather pattern and snow report and bring along food, water, electrolytes and several layers of clothes. 

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