Wet weather and sandy terrain turned one hike into a fight for survival. This spring, such conditions in Zion National Park forced two hikers to keep their heads, push through pain, but eventually (spoiler alert) live to tell their tale.
Trouble for Ryan Osmun and Jessika McNeill began four hours into their hike. McNeill tripped into a hole containing a frightening mixture: quicksand. Osmun was able to free her—but got stuck himself.
Quicksand can form in loose, wet sand and standing water, says Aly Baltrus, Zion National Park spokeswoman. “When water cannot escape, it creates a liquefied soil that cannot support weight and creates suction.”
An unusually wet winter at the park set up perfect quicksand conditions. Osmun’s leg sank up to the knee in the sloppy mixture. McNeill tried prying the leg out with a stick, but that didn’t work. Osmun compared his predicament to “standing in a huge puddle of concrete.”
Without cellphone service, McNeill had to go for help. She knew the fastest route involved wading down the frigid, waist-deep river, rather than walking a trail. “I kept telling myself: ‘He would do it for me,’” McNeill says.
After she left, Osmun started hallucinating. He feared losing his leg or dying alone in the 17-degree weather. “Toward the end, I thought I wasn’t going to make it,” he says.
Three hours later McNeill finally got cellphone service and called 911. “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” she says. “The scariest.” Park rangers found her suffering from hypothermia, a condition in which the body cannot generate heat fast enough to replace the heat it is losing. Low body temperature results.
It took several more hours for rescuers to locate Osmun and two more hours to free his leg. In all, he was trapped for over 10 hours. After freeing him, rangers needed to airlift Osmun out, but a snowstorm was brewing. Unbelievably, Osmun and his rescuers had to stay put all night.
The next day, a helicopter flew Osmun out. Besides hypothermia, he suffered only a swollen leg.
Trouble often makes people re-evaluate their lives. They think about where they might have veered from the right path, what dangers they could have avoided. In times of distress, God is always near. Was David thinking of quicksand when he wrote, “He drew me up . . . out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure”? (Psalm 40:2)
Osmun calls what happened a “freak accident.” Still, he doesn’t plan to hike that trail again.