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Chambers Slot Canyon - Robbers Roost

Chambers Rescue
February 2014

Written By: Rebecca

          Monday, February 17 2014 was our six-month anniversary, and since it was also a holiday, we wanted to go out and celebrate! The activity of choice was canyoneering, a high-adventure sport that involves climbing, hiking, shimmying (I've never used my hips as much in my entire life), and wedging yourself between walls in a narrow slot canyon. The canyon we chose is called Chambers Canyon, where the narrow slot canyon occasionally opens up into little pods, called "chambers." Although it was my first time going canyoneering, my husband, Dallin, had gone many times, often with his brother-in-law, Aaron who also came. My brother Daniel and his friend Sarah also joined us. Although more than half the party had never done this before, we were all excited to leave Provo for the day and to try something new.

          As we pulled up to what looked like the middle of nowhere, we packed a couple of torn backpacks and set off for the canyon. It was a downward hike of about a quarter mile before we got there - full of treacherous rocks that seemed to fall right as I stepped on them (I should've known something was going to happen) and steep downhill slants - sweet. Then we got to the mouth of the canyon and had a quick "initiation ceremony" as we faced what seemed like rather difficult obstacles for beginners. We shimmied down first a 20-foot canyon (we used our hips and shoulders to wedge ourselves between the two walls and then moved slowly down) and then a 30-foot one, crab-walked over an overpass too narrow for us to walk through, and similar exercises. By the time we got well into the canyon, we were really enjoying ourselves and were loving the beautiful structures and colors of the sandstone slot canyon.

Dallin, Rebecca, Daniel, and Sarah - unaware of the adventure we were in for.

          At about noon, we came to the diciest section of the canyon. Up until this point, I was able to bypass most of the narrow passageways simply through my genes - I was skinner than most of the people in the party and didn't have a very difficult time getting through even the most narrow areas. However, we got to a place where I was almost positive I couldn't walk through - and I didn't want to try. My husband went first and found that he could lodge himself between both walls about ten feet up and could cross - similar to how a child can climb on the inside of a door frame by pressing both his hands and feet against either side of the door frame. After Aaron climbed up, he found that there was a ledge, about 15 feet up in the air. If I got to this ledge, then I could climb over the passage, no problem. Well, I tried and tried to get up, but I couldn't get enough traction to get high enough. Soon Aaron came back, lodged himself between two rocks, and reached his hand down. He said that if I got up to his hand, then he could pull me up over his knees and then I could climb to the ledge. It didn't work - my upper body strength was so shot that I couldn't hold myself up, and so I wedged myself between two rocks and then gradually slid down. Soon Aaron came back with a rope. I wouldn't even have to pull myself up on the rope - just hold onto it, and Aaron would pull me up. I grabbed hold, and he pulled, but after having spent several minutes prior to this trying to get up, my upper body strength was shot. I couldn't hold on much longer. Aaron, sensing this, jerked the rope up quickly to try and get me up, but I let go and fell about eight feet, landing on my left foot. As soon as I fell, I could tell that the impact had seriously messed up my ankle - sprained it at best, but more likely broken. The area where I fell was in one of the "chambers" of the canyon, where it opened to about five or six feet in width. Some people have mistakenly thought that I fell with my ankle lodged in a canyon, but I fell in an area so wide that I couldn't even press my body up against the sides to slow my fall. Behind me in this chamber was a little cavern with a slanted rock bottom. I sat down on the rock and Aaron sat by me and held me close while we waited for Dallin to scramble back to where I was. When Dallin did get back, we agreed that I couldn't move enough to get out of the canyon, so Aaron, Daniel, and Sarah would need to hike out of the canyon back to the car and call 9-1-1 while Dallin would stay with me. (Side note: it was a total miracle that there was cell reception back at the car - most canyons require about an hour long drive out of the canyon before there's cell reception. We were really lucky.

          Dallin sat behind me with his back against the sandstone wall so that I could have as much body heat as possible. He grabbed some medicine from the first aid kit we'd packed and gave it to me. Then we waited for about two hours until we heard Aaron's voice. He'd called 9-1-1, and there was a paramedic helicopter on its way. It was only a few minutes later when we heard the thrilling sound of a helicopter. Dallin and I both had tears in our eyes as we listened to our rescuers try and find a place in the rocky canyon to land. It was such an overwhelming feeling to know that you did not have the power to rescue yourself - you were completely dependent on somebody else to save you. After about another 15 minutes, we heard the voice of the paramedic, speaking with Aaron. Neither one of them could see us (turns out we were about 150 feet down into the canyon), and the paramedic said that it would be impossible for him to get us out of that canyon. He would need a more advanced team with ropes to come down and get us out.

          Although this was sad news for us, we still were positive that we were getting out of the canyon, and that gave us hope. Dallin went down canyon a ways to grab the backpack and two sweatshirts that had been left for us. Even though he needed to go through the hardest part of the canyon twice in order to make that happen, he and I both knew that it was worth it. That canyon was getting colder by the minute. As soon as he got back and I put on another sweatshirt, I ate my brother's sandwich - I guessed that it would be packed to the brim with meat and cheese, and I was totally right. Turkey, ham, and cheese sandwich on wheat bread - just what I needed. Dallin fished around for some more pain medication and we realized that the pills he had given me before were Benadryl, not Ibuprofen. That explained the overwhelmingly tired sensations I had been feeling for the past hour... Dallin hiked up the canyon a little ways (aka he went up through the spot we'd already come through) and found another chamber about 10 feet up the canyon. However, this chamber was roomier and had a sandy bed for me to rest on. It was decided that we'd move over that way. That ordeal was probably the hardest part of the day - I was close to passing out from all of the Benadryl I'd taken, so I had to rest quite a few times. But thanks to Dallin's ingenuity, we found a way for me to get up to the sand bed and rest there. We waited there until about 7:00, when we heard another helicopter. And another. And another. Search and rescue had amassed a team of 17 people equipped with drills, ropes, and harnesses. Yet because of the difficulty of getting through the canyon and because it was getting darker by the minute, a helicopter took about five trips flying people above where I was located.

Chambers Slot Canyon - Robbers Roost

          Then the drills started. We realized that the way I was going to get out of the canyon was on a rappel line - so anchors needed to be drilled deep into the rock. About an hour later, we finally heard the blessed words: "Ready on belay!" and the whirring sound of a belay line being let down. A man named Eric was being let down into the canyon, which was divided into two drops - the first one was about 80 feet down in a straight free fall and the second one was about 60 down and was a little less straightforward. When Eric made it down to the first ledge, we started talking to him and soon realized that his anchors were about 20 feet up canyon from where we were. The team would need to spend another hour drilling in a new location so they could get closer to us. By this time, my leg was in serious pain (it was probably heightened by the cold), and I was more anxious than ever to get out of the canyon. So Dallin and I sang songs to pass the time as we waited again for a crew member to get down to where we were. When someone - a man named Clayton - finally made it down to our level, we couldn't contain our excitement. We thanked him endlessly until he started making small talk with us - then we chatted with him like we were old friends. He was a really humble, down-to-earth, small-town kind of guy. He was our savior. After he got down to our level, Clayton told us that it was a good thing that we had moved into the cavern that we did - apparently the chambers on both sides of us were blocked by a boulder in a precarious position, making it extremely dangerous (maybe impossible) for them to get us out had we been in those locations. Clayton strapped me down in a stretcher on one belay line and then hooked himself up to another. We were going to ascend together. It wasn't a minute after we'd started, however, that we realized that the angle of the ascent wasn't going to work. So they drilled in a pulley (which thankfully didn't take an hour) and started the ascent. By this time, all thought and worry about the cold or about the pain in my leg disappeared: I was 100% concerned with making it up the very bumpy and very steep cliff wall alive. Although I knew I was harnessed in and these people were trained professionals (and Clayton was the most professional of them all), I still could not help yelling out "hold the line!" when it slipped, or letting small whimpers of fear escape my lips. Needless to say, I was extremely relieved when we made it up that first wall. The heavy coat and heating packs they gave me also did wonders to alleviate my fears. The second wall was much less hairy than the first one, but I was still breathing heavily and covering my face (partly because I didn't want to see how much longer and partly because there were falling pebbles and debris from the belay line against the cliff face) the whole time.

          Once I made it to the top, a couple of paramedics - Cary and Dan - rushed over to me, asking me my name and how everything happened, etc. They were extremely nice and didn't stress me out at all, which was a huge relief. They asked about where I wanted to be flown to - Grand Junction or Provo, or just across the cliff to the car - which I thought was a little unfair. I was the one who might be in shock because of pain, adrenaline, etc., and yet I was the one expected to make a decision that would cost lots and lots of money. I decided to be flown to Provo since that was only a half-hour driving difference and I really did think that my ankle should be set as soon as possible. So they packed me onto another stretcher and mounted that onto the helicopter. Although I'd always wanted to ride on a helicopter, I never imagined that it would be due to this kind of occasion. I shared that with Dan and Cary, who laughed. I also asked them how much it cost to be flown in a helicopter to the hospital - they said that they didn't know, but they were pretty sure that insurance covered most of it (that remains to be determined). I think they could sense my distress, so Dan gave me some of his night vision goggles, propped up my stretcher so I could see out the window, and then let me look outside with his goggles. They were incredible - the landscape was crystal clear, and the stars were awesome. I could even see some shooting stars with them! I'm really glad they did that - if I'm going to have to pay thousands of dollars to ride in a helicopter, might as well make it enjoyable, right? (Funny side story: when I landed on my ankle, I didn't cry. When I moved, I didn't cry. When Dallin told me his estimate of how much it was going to cost to ride in a helicopter, I sobbed like a baby.) Dan and Cary hooked me up to an IV while I was on the helicopter so they could view my heart rate, respiration rate, and other stats like that. It was pretty interesting to watch my body's natural reactions as we hit air turbulence, as I received a shot, etc. Although there was some turbulence for about 20 minutes, the ride was for the most part quite enjoyable, and the landing was as light as a feather (REALLY glad it wasn't like an airplane landing - not sure my foot could have handled that).

Post-op x-ray #1 Post-op x-ray #2. Look at all of those screws!

          When we opened the helicopter door, there was another stretcher with a crew that said, "welcome to Utah Valley!" Thinking that they meant Utah Valley proper and not the hospital, I said: "It's good to be back!" It wasn't until they all started laughing that I figured out what they meant. They wheeled me inside to my room and immediately informed me that my "friend," Tiffany, was here. They could see that I was obviously perplexed - I don't have too many close friends named Tiffany, and the ones that I do have don't live close to me. Then they said that it was my sister-in-law, Aaron's wife. I was so glad that she was there. They laughed at me when I figured out who it was and said: "Well, she seemed to think you were friends!" (Just for the record, we are. I blame everything dumb that I said and did on shock and pain-killers.) After letting me go to the bathroom (it was a long ten-hour wait) and taking some x-rays, they let Tiffany in. Then they had her go out again a few minutes later as they put me under and set my bone. According to the x-rays, I had fractured my ankle in two, maybe three places. I would need to undergo surgery the next day and starting right at that moment could not have any food or water. :) Thankfully, they were able to work me into the surgeon's schedule pretty quickly - I had surgery the next morning at 10 AM. It went well, relatively speaking: turns out my ankle was shattered completely on one side and I'd lacerated one of my tendons as well (making it a much slower recovery process). But the surgery went well: thirteen 4.5 mm-thick screws were drilled in, along with some metal plates. I can get them out later in the year if I wish, but I can also keep them in. We'll see how annoying they are and we'll go from there.

Falls Risk... Hahaha... First night after the surgery - totally wiped out.

          Everyone at the hospital was so kind and attentive - from the nurses helping me go to the bathroom every few hours to the surgeon himself. I also had some visits from friends and family that meant the world to me. I stayed in the hospital a little longer than expected - two nights - because we needed to wait for the pain to stabilize, and then we drove to my sister-in-law's house Midway, where I've been staying since Wednesday morning. My mom flew out the same day and has been a miracle worker. Not only did she comfort me and take care of me, but she also cooked 40-something portions of meals to get me through the next month or so. My sister-in-law, Camille, has also been incredible. Her baby is due any moment now, and yet she has been more than willing to give up her house and even her master bedroom to me so that I wouldn't have to face going up and down stairs. All in all, things are going pretty well. The pain has been manageable - it was pretty bad right after the surgery (apparently my body isn't a huge fan of having tons of metal screwed into my bone), but it has been more than manageable since then. I've been visited by many lovely people that have totally cheered me up. I've felt God's hand in my life through this whole ordeal, which has done nothing but increase my love and faith in Him. And last but not least, I've been more in love with my husband this past week than ever before. I can't imagine Dallin being more attentive and caring, and for some reason he thought that I was pretty level-headed in the canyon and that has made him more proud than ever to be my husband. So for a disaster of a six-month anniversary trip, things have turned out pretty well.

Related Links:
Circle of Friends - Route Information (Members Only)
Chambers Canyon - Route Information
Stuck in Chambers - Slot Canyon Rescue

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