On November 9, 2011, at approximately 3 PM, a 44-year-old woman from Scottsdale reported she became lost while hiking in the Jacks Canyon area of Sedona. Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office searchers arrived shortly thereafter and received updated GPS information obtained from her initial cell phone call requesting help. At 4 PM, searchers spoke to her via cell phone and confirmed she was ok and in possession of some trail mix and water. Fortunately, her cell phone battery had a full charge. Her clothing consisted of only pants, shirt, and shoes which was not adequate protection from the elements if stranded overnight.
Within the hour, searchers had determined she was likely on the Hot Loop trail, still lost and unable to find her way back to the trailhead. In order to assist trackers in their effort to find her, she was asked to take a cell phone photo of her boot sole and send it to the search team. Using this photo, searchers were able to verify her boot tracks on the Hot Loop trail and this greatly aided the team in determining her direction of travel, especially without daylight. GPS coordinates also remained a critical component in the search. About 8 PM, the lost hiker was located at the top of a mesa in good condition and escorted back to her vehicle at the trailhead.
On November 11, 2011, YCSO search and rescue personnel were called to the Pine Mountain area after a report of 2 missing campers. The Pine Mountain Wilderness is a 20,000-acre plus property that straddles the Verde River Rim, and the boundary between the Prescott and Tonto National Forests. The reporting party told dispatchers that while camping, she was approached by 2 female hikers earlier in the day who were camping nearby. The women told her if they were not back by 9 PM, to call for help. Just after 10 PM, the woman had still not returned, so YCSO was notified. The reporting party had to drive some distance on Dugas Road to access cell phone service. By 1AM, there was still no contact from the women as search personnel, including the Quad and Backcountry Units from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office Response Team (YCSRT), started gathering. The women, both from Peoria, were 41 and 53 years of age.
A DPS Ranger helicopter from Kingman also arrived in the area and eventually located 2 subjects around 4 AM standing near a fire about a mile from their campsite. Ranger could not fly low enough to confirm these were the lost hikers, so Backcountry Unit was deployed. Just before 6 AM, personnel from the Backcountry Unit were able to locate the missing hikers and escort them to safety. They told rescuers that the prior day’s hike delayed their expected return time and since darkness was setting, they had stopped and built a fire to wait for daylight.
Lessons --- Hikers in the Pine Mountain incident were wise to share their expected return time with nearby campers especially since cell service was unlikely. A satellite based personal tracking device would have overcome this obstacle and provided a connection with rescue personnel. In the Jacks Canyon situation, the lone hiker accessed a trail she was not familiar with. Always plan your hike around marked trails following research of the area you plan explore. A late start could mean an overnight stay in the outdoors if you become lost. Consider bringing extra clothing, matches, water, first aid supplies, cell phone with spare battery, and a light source.
As always, Sheriff Mascher appreciates the work of all personnel involved in these incidents, especially the dedication of those volunteers who risk their own safety in order to save others.