Canyon Rescue
June 1988

“Canyon Rescue,” Ensign, June 1988, 47–48

Canyon Rescue

A camping trip on horseback in the Colorado mountains with my son and teenage brother-in-law was the perfect release from city stress. Fishing in clear, tumbling streams; cooking over a campfire; and riding my favorite mare made the week a peaceful memory.

On our way home, we paused to finish a roll of film at the Deep Creek Overlook. Suddenly a teenage boy hurried over to ask for help. His group had been taking pictures close by, and his mother had stepped too near the edge. The earth had crumbled, sending her over a 500-foot cliff. Her husband had started to go after her, but had been stopped a hundred feet down the mountain by the steep incline and loose rocks.

I immediately got some ropes from the truck and started down. My ropes got me several hundred feet, but came up a bit short. I dropped the last twenty feet to a five-foot ledge, then inched across a snowslide that sloped precariously toward the edge of the mile-deep canyon. Finally, I reached the woman. She was dead; there had been little chance she could survive such a fall.

I positioned her body so that it wouldn’t slip over the edge, then began to climb out. However, there were no rocks or tree limbs to provide handholds to where the rope dangled twenty feet above. I yelled to the boys to call the highway patrol on the CB radio in our truck.

The rescuers arrived and began their descent. Rocks rained all around me, and I hugged the cliff wall for protection. After several futile attempts to reach me, they called Alpine Rescue—the terrain was too steep for their equipment.

By then, almost three hours had passed since we had broken camp. A storm, which had been brewing since morning, now hit with full fury. Hail and drenching rain pelted me, threatening to loosen my desperate grip on the small ledge. Soon I began to shake uncontrollably. To prevent hypothermia, I slapped my sides and jumped up and down in the small space.

I began to pray with an intensity that my prayers often lacked. Suddenly I felt calm, sensing that someone was protecting me. I was still hungry and cold, but I was no longer afraid. In a few moments, the rain and hail passed as quickly as they had begun. The sun was setting by the time Alpine Rescue arrived on top. They lowered a basket to me with a sweater, food, water, and a helmet to protect my head from falling debris.

It was dark and cold by the time the rescuers reached me. Slowly we made the long, treacherous climb to the top. As I inched over the top of the cliff, I saw my ten-year-old son. He hugged me and began to cry. Twenty people stood around to congratulate me for attempting to rescue the woman. But I knew the real thanks belonged to our Father in Heaven, whose power kept me safe and brought me from the canyon.

  • James S. Colt, a dentist, serves in the bishopric of the Evergreen Ward, Golden Colorado Stake. Leslie, his wife, is a free-lance writer and serves in the Relief Society presidency.