Keg Spring Canyon SAR


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012
Kid makes ill-advised decision to leave his stranded bike above Labyrinth Canyon in order to reach the Green River for water... information below is direct from Emery County Sheriff's Office.


Keg Canyon, San Rafael Desert – May 14, 2013

Emery County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch received a call at 1543 hrs on 5/13/13 stating that a member of a mountain bike party had gone missing. Personnel from the Emery County Sheriff’s Office and National Park Service responded to the Keg Point area in the southeast corner of Emery County, just north of the popular Horseshoe Canyon petroglyph panel.

The reporting party stated that their group was riding mountain bikes in a slick rock area when they lost sight of 18-year-old Sam Spirio-Johnston of Salt Lake City. The reporting party stated that Johnston had wrecked on his bike a couple of days ago, so they thought he was just being extra cautious and lagging behind. Personnel began searching the roads and trails in the area by foot.

A pilot from the Huntington Airport flew the Emery County Sheriff over the area in a fixed-wing plane. They searched the area until dark but were unable to locate the missing man.

This morning, personnel from the Emery County Sheriff’s Office and Search and Rescue Team, and BLM personnel arrived on scene to search the area on dirt bikes and ATVs. The reporting party also searched by mountain bike. Rescuers were prepared with technical rope rescue gear in case the missing man was located in a ravine. A DPS helicopter was also dispatched to assist in the search.

Emery County Sheriff’s Office personnel in the DPS helicopter spotted a mountain bike by a ravine on the south rim of Keg Canyon. The helicopter landed and the bike, with a flat tire, was identified as that of the missing man. The helicopter resumed flight and guided land searchers to the bike’s location, where the ground search continued. The DPS pilot resumed flight and flew down the drainage of Keg Canyon. As the helicopter exited the mouth of the canyon, searchers spotted three canoes full of people waving. The helicopter circled and the people in the canoes begin pointing their paddles to the top of the cliffs. The pilot gained altitude and located the missing man who was standing on the rim and waving.

The subject was coherent and appeared to be in good condition. He was transported by helicopter to the landing zone, examined by an EMT who was part of the search team, and given food and water.

Johnston explained that he had fallen behind his group and had gotten thirsty. He went down to the Green River to get a drink, and when he got back to the slick rock area he went the wrong direction. He found a place to sleep, and this morning began walking but kept getting ledged in. He was located 3 miles (as the crow flies) from where he abandoned his bike.
Whoa! They make it sounds like he was just like 'oh, look water. I'll go drink some'. I wonder if it was that simple (and he had a way to treat it) or if he was already in a desperate situation? Crazy either way. Thanks for posting.
A hiking buddy of mine was on the SAR crew with his dirt bike. Judging from his photos on Facebook this occurred on the ridge above Colonnade Arch. That's like 1,000' of elevation loss to get down to the river from there. I know there's some sort of route to do that 'cause I've heard of rafters hiking up to Colonnade, but still--wouldn't be fun if you were separated from your party and disoriented. My friend ended up hauling the mountain bike out strapped to his back while he rode his dirt bike.
A couple things strike me about this, having just come back from boating the Green through Labyrinth. First, as Udink points out, it is non-trivial to reach the canyon bottom from up top, let alone to re-ascend. Two, the searchers located his bike with relative ease but might never have spotted him were it not for the river runners. Three, the Green this far south has a high sediment load and drinking directly from the river in anything short of a survival situation is unwise.

The idea that he simply fell behind and "got thirsty" and therefore went down to the Green really doesn't jibe for me.
Yeah, that would be a hell of a hike and even with purification drinking out of the Green sounds like a daunting task. Seems like the report is glossing over some pertinent details.
If he wasn't dehydrated before the hike down to the river, he certainly would after.

Standing in colonnade arch looking to the river is a long ways. Not even sure how you would get down.
You have to keep in mind that he was 18 and sounds like in-experienced even as a mountain bike rider, which means likely in-experienced in back country situations, so he sees a bit of water in the distance and thinks he can get down to it. Not too far-fetched at all for me to imagine.
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