7 Amazing Grand Canyon Survival Stories

1.  Teenager Rescued After Friends Perish

On an intensely hot day in July of 1959, teenager John Owens and two companions hiked down Tanner Trail.  Due to a lethal combination of heat exhaustion, dehydration, and failing judgment his two hiking partners died; one from falling off a cliff and the other from heat stroke.  At Tanner Rapids, Owens built a crude driftwood raft and floated down the Colorado River for the next 4 days, ending up on a sandbar near Neville Rapids.  Owens survived for the next few days on cactus pulp and mesquite beans, meanwhile constructing a massive stone landmark that aerial searchers spotted.  He was rescued barely alive by helicopter.

2.  Woman Takes Wrong Turn in Havasu Canyon

Linda Fortney decided to visit the famous waterfalls of Havasu Canyon on a scorching summer day in 1975.  She took a wrong turn and began hiking in the opposite direction of the falls up Cataract Canyon, more than ten miles from the falls and the village of Supai.  Luckily, she found an ephemeral spring with just barely enough flow to avoid dehydration.  Lost, scared, and unwilling to venture far from the spring, she survived for 18 days until Havasupai Indians tracked and rescued her.

3.  Airmen Bail Out of Plane Over Grand Canyon

During World War II, three air force crewmen were forced to bail out of a plane in flight over Grand Canyon.  The pilot ordered the evacuation on a false alarm and eventually landed safely, but the crew parachuted into the area of Tuna Creek, a remote side canyon.  At the time virtually no known route existed to reach Tuna Creek within the labyrinth of Grand Canyon.  The injured airmen survived on airdrop rations for a week before searchers finally forged a route in and rescued them.

4.  Two Men Swim the Colorado River through Grand Canyon

In 1955, Bill Beer and John Daggett dreamed up the idea of being the first people to swim the Colorado River through Grand Canyon.  Their dream, albeit illegal, became a reality.  Outfitted with swimming fins, wetsuits, and waterproof gear sacks they survived the entire run; taking 26 days to complete such a dramatic and trying ordeal.  Bill Beer chronicled their gutsy journey in his book, “We Swam the Grand Canyon:  the True Story of a Cheap Vacation That Got a Little Out of Hand”.

5.  Failed Shortcut Nearly Fatal

Like many young men of his generation, Charles Myers, a college student from New York, turned his back on the east coast throngs and headed west in 1975, eventually arriving at Grand Canyon.  He chose to backpack the Hermit Trail during the hottest time of the year, and did so decidedly unprepared.  When his supply of food ran out on the 1st day he tried to hike out using an off-trail shortcut, falling off a ledge in the process resulting in severe injuries.  After burning his clothes and possessions in a futile attempt to secure help, Myers spent 10 painful days stumbling around Hermit Creek before he was found and rescued.

6.  Grand Canyon Hiking Legend’s Near Escape

Harvey Butchart, the undisputed all-time king of Grand Canyon backcountry hiking, got himself into a fair share of close calls and precarious situations during his decades of experience below the rim.  Perhaps none were more serious than his attempt to rope climb back up a cliff in the Saddle Canyon area.  Butchart, at over 60 years of age, became stuck upside down while still attached to the rope.  After a lengthy struggle he finally freed himself from the rope, only to face more than 30 straight hours of winter hiking in near freezing temperatures to return to his vehicle.

7.  The Powell Expedition

The Powell Expedition of 1869 was the first group of Americans to boat through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River.  They encountered innumerable near-disasters and unbelievable hardships.  While three men who abandoned the expedition tragically died, the remaining explorers survived an unprecedented journey that lasted for over 3 months, under the most strenuous conditions imaginable.

1 Comment

  1. read bill beer’s book this afternoon

    my god, to be young again
    and take the challenges
    that i may have forsaken

    god bless bill and john

    since their time, and before,
    hundreds of people have perished
    in the canyon

    i will read his book again

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