ZION NATIONAL PARK — Vigilant park rangers may have saved the lives of two inexperienced canyoneers who got stuck attempting to traverse Heaps Canyon over the weekend.
The pair, a 41-year-old man and 26-year-old woman, had picked up a wilderness permit and entered Heaps Canyon on Saturday morning. Park rangers warned them their late start might necessitate staying overnight in the canyon.
The two were never reported missing or overdue, but rangers noticed their vehicle at a trail head Monday morning.
Aly Baltrus, spokeswoman for Zion National Park, said the successful rescue can be credited to the information the visitors had provided on their permit application and the observations of the rangers who took note of their absence.
"Had rangers not noticed the canyoneers' vehicle at the trail head, it is unclear when or if the two would have been reported overdue," Baltrus said.
The canyoneers were spotted by helicopter late Monday. They were a little more than halfway through and said they were unable to finish the route. The chopper returned Tuesday morning and was able to land on a canyon bench above the group.
A six-person rescue team helped lower a ranger 125 feet down from the bench into the canyon, then hauled the pair and the park ranger back up. Neither of the canyoneers required medical assistance.
Heaps Canyon is a challenging route in in the increasingly popular sport of canyoneering, park officials said. The canyon is 11 miles long and includes a 300-foot free hanging rappel, swimming through cold water and slick rock potholes.
The two stranded canyoneers lacked the experience necessary to successfully complete the route, the release stated.