Kane County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue (KCSAR) retrieved two missing hikers during an all-day search operation on Wednesday, July 24. The hikers, Alex Whippo and Jennie Timberlake from San Antonio, Texas, were on a two-day hike in the Buckskin Gulch area. The pair had deviated from their planned course due to unexpectedly difficult conditions in the gulch, and became lost in the Paria Wilderness Area east of Kanab.

KCSAR first learned the hikers were overdue the previous evening when their shuttle driver reported the hikers had not returned as scheduled. Early on July 24, the hikers’ parents told Kane County officials that the two had not checked in the previous evening. “It was at that point we knew this was real,” said KSCAR Vice Commander John Jorgensen.

KCSAR quickly assembled an advance team and immediately deployed for a search in the Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon areas. Commander Alan Alldredge established an incident command post in Kanab, while Jorgensen set up a tactical operations base at the BLM Paria Contact Station.

Using all information available about the hikers and their planned route, ground teams began searching the areas where Whippo and Timberlake were known to have been. One team, led by KCSAR volunteer Bill “Yermo” Welsh, entered Buckskin Gulch via the Middle Route, while another team of Quartermaster Don Sprecher and volunteer Lucas Jorgensen set up a forward observation post along the rim of the canyon.

BLM staff responding to the incident took up positions at nearby trailheads to watch for the missing individuals and ask other hikers if they had seen the pair. As more KCSAR searchers arrived, a third ground team headed down the Paria River Canyon from the White House Trailhead to check the hiker’s planned exit route.

Due to fears that the hikers may have missed their turn and continued on towards Lee’s Ferry, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office was asked to assist, including dispatching an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter to check areas further down the canyon on the Arizona side of the Paria River route.

The first major break came just after noon when the team tracking through the Buckskin came across two pair of abandoned water shoes west of the confluence. The team also noticed tracks leading out of the canyon in the general direction of Cobra Arch. KCSAR volunteer Welsh relayed this information to the tactical operations base via a Classic Lifeguard helicopter participating in the search.

With this new information in hand, a fourth ground unit, led by Sergeant Shawn King, began hiking across exceptionally rugged terrain beyond Cobra Arch. Just after 2 p.m. the exhausted and extremely relieved hikers were located.

KCSAR Volunteer Shelly King, who is also a Kane County EMT, tended to Whippo and Timberlake’s minor injuries, while Sergeant King arranged for the Arizona DPS helicopter to transport the hikers to the Paria Contact Station.

After receiving additional treatment at the station and sharing sincere thanks and hugs all the way around, the shaken, but happy, couple continued on their way.

During a post-incident briefing, Vice Commander Jorgensen praised his volunteers for their professionalism and dedication. He added that searchers also caught a break from the weather, as area thunderstorms almost miraculously avoided the search area, allowing ground teams and air support helicopters to operate continuously.

KCSAR prepares and trains for exactly these types of scenarios, and is ready to go at a moment’s notice. However, the most successful rescue is the one that doesn’t need to take place at all. Kane County’s incredibly beautiful scenery carries with it high altitude, extreme temperatures, and potentially volatile weather conditions.

Hikers are reminded to use common sense in their activities, and to always carry extra water, food, clothes, and basic first aid supplies. Letting someone know where you are going and when you will be back is critical, as getting an early start and knowing where to begin looking for this pair made all the difference in the positive outcome of this incident.

Wearing bright-colored clothing is important too, noted Shelly King, who was on the team that found the missing hikers. In this case, it was a piece of bright pink clothing that stood out against the desert background.

A spot tracker, satellite phone, or similar remote communications device is also essential equipment when recreating in wilderness and remote locations. Those little bits of technology tell searchers exactly where you are. They aren’t a substitute for preparation and good sense, but they help make a difference if an emergency arises.

KCSAR would also like to share a special thanks with Classic Lifeguard for communications and air surveillance help, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office for its generous participation, and to Arizona DPS for transporting the hikers to safety.