About Coconino County

About Coconino County

Encompassing 18,661 square miles, Coconino County, Arizona, is the second largest county in the U.S. but one of the least populated. Our county includes Grand Canyon National Park, the Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi Indian Reservations, and the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. Elevations range from 2,000 feet above sea level along the Colorado River to 12,633 feet at the summit of Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff.

Way Over The Edge -- A Technical Recovery Mission

Horseshoe Bend (Colorado River) -- the site of our mission
Do you know how heavy 900 feet of 1/2-inch rope is? Neither do I, exactly. At least, not in actual pounds. But I've felt how heavy it is as I've tried to belay someone on the end of it. Actually, at the point where a stronger (male) teammate took over, when my arms were starting to shake a bit and the sweat was dripping off my chin -- it was about 100 degrees out there under the desert sun -- there was far less than 900 feet of rope already over the edge.

When my hands were free of the tandem prusik belay, I moved over to the main line and attached another rope to the 600-footer we were quickly using up (I tied the standard double fisherman's knot to join the two) and then maneuvered through the knot-passing when the time came.

And down, down, down our teammate went over the edge of the 1,100-foot cliff at Horseshoe Bend, retrieving evidence. That had been our assignment for the day -- to retrieve some items that had been spotted from the rim that were believed to belong to a missing person. But as that task was being carried out, things changed when our teammate detected something more than just evidence. It was intermittent and faint at first, so down, down, down we lowered him, communicating via radio, until he found the human remains.

As physically demanding, hot and uncomfortable as the task sometimes was for those of us up on top, we knew our teammate, who was on his own below the rim, had the most difficult job of all ... in more ways than one. Those of us tending to his lifelines from above frequently commented amongst ourselves about the long, grim task he was faced with.

Originally, the mission was expected to be fairly brief and wrapped up by noon. As it turned out, we didn't get back to Flagstaff until after 9pm. But we were glad to help bring closure to that search and the family.

Here are some photos from that day's long technical recovery mission near Page, Arizona....

The tech gear is loaded and ready.
An NPS ranger shows my teammate some of the visible evidence below.
We use the truck as an anchor for the main and belay lines.
Randy works the edge, keeping an eye on our teammate below and communicating with him.
The DPS helicopter drops a cargo net to our teammate for the recovery.
The helicopter moves closer to the cliff and our teammate's location.
Rather than raise Joel back up 900 feet, he's short-hauled to the rim.
In other Coconino County SAR news....

From July 5th -- Another find for the SAR dogs

I received this mission report from Cindy, the K9 handler:

"Last night at 2030 hours, the dogs were called out for a search on the San Francisco Peaks off the Weatherford Trail.  We deployed from the center section of the trail, with the assignment of ascending to the summit starting at 2200 hours (appx 10,000'-11,000' elevation).  After 3 miles and 1.5 hours of hiking, all 4 of my search dogs started to show alert signals telling me they were working scent.  Each time they came to a specific point in the switchbacks we were hiking during our ascent, they would all begin to work up in elevation off trail then return to the trail.  From this behavior, I was able to inform the strike team that I expected the subjects to be above us directly each time the dogs began to show their alert behaviors.  Just another 2 switchbacks up, they all left the trail in a beeline straight up an extremely steep grade, cutting the next switchback entirely, directly to the subjects and gave simultaneous final responses.  Both of the subjects were cold, shivering and wet from the light rain but, after some warming and a change of clothes, they both walked out with our strike team's assistance.  They had no food, water, rain gear and the light they had was from their i-phone."