On March 6, 2011, my brother, Louis, and I were finishing a hike through No Man’s Canyon in remote south-central Utah. It was 1:00 p.m. by his watch and Louis remarked, “Let’s have lunch after we go down.” I agreed. We had been taking week-long canyoneering trips together since 2006 and enjoyed the hiking, climbing, and camping in Utah. It was to be a day trip in No Man’s Canyon and then on to the next campsite.
The exit rappel starts as a narrow, sloping slot (comfortable for one climber at a time) and then over the canyon wall edge for about 80 feet, ending at the bottom near a pool. We set up the rope, and Louis went first as he usually did, since he was the most experienced climber.
After maneuvering his way down and over the edge, Louis was on a free-rappel. Soon, he called back to me that the rope was short on one side. I panicked. In the next moment, Louis reassured me, “No biggie.” In the instant that I relaxed, the rope zipped rapidly through the rappel ring and over the edge.
I cried, “Louis!” “Louis!” “Louis!” No answer. I had no way down and no way out by the route we came in. And I could do nothing for my brother who lay down at the bottom of canyon out of my sight.
Stranded on a ledge for six days, I survived on 12 oz. of water; a turkey sandwich; a power bar; an orange; some cashews; and a liter of iced tea until it spoiled from a large slice of lemon I had put in it that morning.
Louis did not survive. What he attempted to do off the short end of the rope is pure speculation, but it’s likely he jumped the distance to the ground and fell badly. Days later, it was determined that the tape used to mark the rope’s center had shifted from the friction of the previous rappels we had completed prior to the last one. What we thought was the center of the rope during the final set up was not. The rope was long enough but not correctly positioned.
A memoir inspired by those six days and dedicated to my brother is underway.