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ST. GEORGE — After receiving a call at 6 a.m. to rescue a backpacker stranded in snow, the Washington County Sheriff's Office dispatched search and rescue volunteers on snowmobiles and snow bikes to reach the woman before the cold could do irreversible damage.
Sgt. Darrell Cashin with the Washington County Sheriff's Search and Rescue said his crews were sent into a remote part of Zion National Park to help a 26-year-old woman visiting the area from New York.
After starting a multi-day hike on Sunday and camping overnight, she broke camp in the early hours of Monday morning and continued her route until a numbing chill practically immobilized her legs, Cashin said.
"She got to the top of Hop Valley by the arch in Kolob Fingers, and there's 2-3 feet of snow in there," he said. "I think the deputies said that it was like 15 degrees (Fahrenheit) up there, so it was very cold. She's going through the snow and she gets stuck – physically stuck. She can't move. She can't get out. But she has a SPOT device that she can text with, so she texts out, 'I need help.'"
The SPOT device, a satellite messenger, also shared her geolocation data with emergency personnel. Even on snow vehicles adapted for winter terrain, the rescuers could only make it about six miles in from the trailhead before they had to continue on foot for a little over a mile before finding the woman.
"It took about an hour and 40 minutes for my search and rescue to reach her," Cashin said. "During this, she'd been texting us in and out saying, 'My legs are numb. I can't feel my feet. I've been going unconscious.' At one point, she texted, 'I'm eating snow to stay hydrated.' But in those situations where you're hypothermic, eating snow just drops your core temperature even more. That's when we became really concerned."