Searching for lost friends at night at the Parowan Gap

The Parowan Gap. They were lost in the steep, hilly country to the left of the gap.

All’s well that ends well but last night we  searched for friends lost in rugged terrain after a dirt bike crash disabled one bike, causing a knee injury.

DJ (who blogs here some) texted his wife at 9 pm saying he and friend Jennifer were lost in the back country and on foot near the Parowan Gap, a large rock outcropping notable for Indian petroglyphs. Jennifer suffered a knee injury after hitting a boulder in the semi-dark, which also broke the clutch on her bike. They’d been a bit too long out, dark was coming, so they tried a short cut, and ended up going in the classic circle that people who are lost travel in. Then the accident happened. They had no water or food.

Four of us went looking for them, and also called the Sheriff. Two deputies arrived quickly. We were all driving over seriously gnarly back dirt roads at night looking for them. My iPhone 4 with AT&T service was the only phone that could reliably send and receive texts with DJ. Jennifer’s boyfriend Joe arrived. He’s a Utah cowboy who grew up here and knows the terrain. DJ managed to phone where he was. Joe took off on foot at night with a flashlight and found them in twenty minutes. But Jennifer was limping and they weren’t entirely sure where they were.

Meanwhile, DJ’s wife and I are in the back of a cop car going off-road looking for them and the officer accidentally drove it into into a gully. We both whacked our heads against the plastic partition separating the front from the back seat. Ouch. (I have a skull made of stone and am fine. She hurts a bit.) The cop managed to get the car out and off we went again.

After about two hours, using iPhone texts I received and by triangulating from DJ’s “HELP” text to 911. the sheriffs found them, and we all met next to a RV parked in the middle of nowhere whose occupant was probably wondering what the heck was going on outside. Jennifer’s knee was badly swollen, everyone was tired and thirsty, but basically ok. They walked over four miles in the dark with no flashlight when Joe found them, then probably two more miles.

Some thoughts. (This is not meant as criticism. Anyone who has spent time in the back county including me has sometimes not done the following.)

1) If you are lost or think you might be, get to a trail or road and stay on it. This makes it easier to find you. This also means you won’t go in a circle and end up back where you started, as DJ and Jennifer did.

2) Always bring the Ten Essentials. Among them and most crucial are a whistle and headlamp. Three blasts on a whistle is the universal distress signal and the sound of a whistle will carry much further than your voice. A headlamp frees your hands when hiking. Other essentials include water, sports bars, warm clothing or space blankets, matches, compass, and a knife. Don’t go into the back country without them.

3) Make sure your cell phone is fully charged. Without cell phones last night, well, they would have been there until morning at least.

Big thanks to the Iron County Sheriff’s Department who did not stop until everyone was found.


  1. Just one brief comment: it was the roads that were going in circles. Hence, with daylight fading, we tried the wash, figuring that water always runs downhill. The wash would have led us to the main road… eventually. But, after 3 miles of helping/carrying Jennifer, and with the wash seeming to travel ever-further west instead of the expected south, with no lights and Jupiter the brightest thing in the sky, were were exhausted and I thought I had no idea where we were. (In fact, I guesstimated pretty close, but after hours hiking in the dark I had begun to question my sense of direction.)

    Jennifer’s knee, it turns out, is broken. It will heal, but I have even greater respect for her to have kept on going in the pain she was in.

    Her boyfriend was a lifesaver. Though he wasn’t able to get us back to the road, he brought us a flashlight with which (unable to go further) we eventually signaled the cops, who came and got us.

    And the Iron County Sheriff deputies were fabulous, staying out there for hours until they finally found us.

    The hills up there are confusing, the terrain rough. As I learned in daylight, all washes look pretty much the same. It took two days for me to find where we ditched the bikes, but I got finally them out. They, and we, are home and not much worse for wear. And we, at least, are hopefully a little wiser than we were before.

    • Those sheriffs went tearing down gnarly dirt roads at night looking for you. I know, I was following one of them and couldn’t keep up! That back country area has lots of confusing, twisty roads.

      I now have a fully-prepared backpack in my car, with multiple flashlights, gloves, space blankets, trekking poles, sports bars, water, whistle, compass, clothes, etc. I could survive a couple of days with that, and provide aid to anyone who needs it.

      This could have ended badly. So happy it didn’t.

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