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Southern Utah News Front Page: November 27, 2019
Cathy Hefler just after being located by KCSAR members Jeff Frey (l) and Henry Hernandez (r).
By Jeff Frey
On Wednesday, November 20, at about 1:30 p.m., Dave Hefler, 59, and his wife Cathy, 63, Alpine, Utah, began their hike to The Wave from the Wire Pass parking lot trailhead.
The next morning, the Kane County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) received a call from the couple’s daughter stating her parents had not called to report their safe return from their hike.
The Sheriff’s Office notified the BLM, Kane County Search and Rescue (KCSAR) and the Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter. A KCSO deputy and BLM ranger found the Hefler’s car at the Wire Pass trailhead and initiated an immediate search for the couple.
Being reasonably warm and only partly cloudy when they started, Dave wore only shorts and two tee shirts, leaving behind his jacket, despite his wife’s admonishment not to do so.
Cathy had on a long sleeved tee, a shirt, stretch pants and a light hooded rain jacket. They had water and some granola bars with them. Witnesses reported seeing the couple, relating that they did not appear to have adequate clothing considering the cold, rainy weather conditions.
On their return hike from The Wave late that afternoon, they got disoriented near the Twin Rocks landmark and wandered about the slickrock and sand washes until darkness set in.
Unable to continue in the darkness and with rain falling, they hunkered down on the sand to wait out the long, cold and rain-soaked night.
“We were out in the open since we could find no shelter,” related Dave. “Cathy had two extra pair of socks we used as mittens, but of course they got wet along with everything else.”
“It was freezing,” exclaimed Cathy, “and I thought we were going to die. We snuggled and shivered and didn’t sleep all night long. I didn’t want to die out there, but I felt I might.”
At daybreak, they found frozen rain on their garments and snow on the nearby buttes. Rather miraculously they survived hypothermia, which when prolonged is known to kill people. Wet, cold, stiff and sore they set off again.
“My BLM map was destroyed by water, so I didn’t know exactly what direction to head and figured it best to head north,” related Dave. “We hadn’t seen anyone since yesterday afternoon.”
They meandered several hours before finding themselves in Wire Pass wash just below the chokestone pour-off near the beginning of the slot canyon. This, obviously, was not a familiar area to them.
“We got to the boulder blocking the narrow canyon,” Dave explained, “but Cathy couldn’t get up over it. We went back and met up with six young hikers going down canyon, who then helped Cathy get up the steep slickrock by-pass route, previously unknown to us. They told me to follow the wash upstream to the parking lot. Cathy wasn’t able to go any further at that time, so I told her to stay put while I went for help.”
Smartly, she did what she was told, relating that she was also having more difficulty with a chronic balance problem.
Dave got out to the parking lot around noon and then drove to the Paria Contact Station, which has been closed since Nov. 15. However, he was able to call his daughter, who then again called the KCSO.
Dave was contacted and told to return to the Wire Pass parking lot. Dispatch then deployed a KCSAR team and additional personnel from the KCSO and BLM, along with the DPS helicopter, to the Wire Pass trailhead. Dave’s description of where he left Cathy led to searchers finding her in short time.
Her condition was evaluated, and despite being very cold and weak, she was able to converse understandably. She was provided warm clothing, a beanie, gloves, granola bars and water, along with plenty of hugs.
The Utah DPS helicopter arrived at the location and after Cathy was stabilized and able to walk, she was escorted up the wash to where the chopper could safely land.
She was transported to the Wire Pass parking lot where Dave was waiting to take her back to their Alpine home. They were scheduled to leave for California the next day.
In my conversation with the couple after their ordeal ended, Dave offered some hindsight observations regarding their experience.
“We didn’t prepare very well for this hike,” Dave declared. “We didn’t realize how long the hike to The Wave was and started too late in the day. We got our permits through the online lottery and didn’t go to the BLM orientation program, which was a mistake, I think. We didn’t take adequate provisions to deal with unforeseen adverse circumstances – like extra clothing, flashlights, fire-starter and whatever. Maybe we should have had a guide.”
A very emotional Cathy said, “We are so grateful for and appreciate the help everyone gave us. We are very fortunate to have come out of this adventure and have learned from it.”
Dave and Cathy Hefler are tough and resilient individuals and survived a very difficult experience, whereas others may not have been so fortunate. Always be prepared when traversing the backcountry. Your life may depend on it.
The Kane County Sheriff’s Office encourages everyone to be prepared and have a contingency plan, and be sure to tell a responsible person where you are going and when they should expect you back when exploring the southern Utah backcountry.
The KCSO appreciates the contributions of their KCSAR members, who volunteer their time to help people in these situations. If you are interested in becoming a member of this awesome team, please contact the KCSO for more information.