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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Can of Worms — Episode 7: Outdoor Recreation

In this episode of Can of Worms, we explore outdoor recreation in Salt Lake City! Oliver talks to a Professor here at the U, a member of the Utah Avalanche Center, and a volunteer worker at Search and Rescue to find out what it is that draws everyone to Utah and its outdoor recreation. Join us!
Mary Allen
(Design by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


Oliver: All right listeners. Let’s start with a little mindfulness exercise. Let’s see if my podcast voice also works for a mindfulness voice. Take a deep breath in with me for five seconds: 1 … 2 … 3 … 4 … 5 … and out … 1 … 2 … 3 … 4 … 5 … Now take another deep breath and imagine you’re filling your lungs with crisp mountain air. Continue breathing my sweet friends and find yourself on the edge of a vast snow-covered meadow surrounded by towering evergreen trees. The air is still and the world is hushed in a pre-dawn silence of peace. You’re alone with your thoughts, standing on the precipice of an adventure. Now exhale, slowly, releasing any tension you may be holding. Feel the weight of your body sink into the soft snow beneath you. Inhale again trying in the pure essence of the snow-covered landscape around you.


Oliver: I have to pause.

Cambria: No, no, no, I liked that. I liked that.

Oliver: Was that good?

Cambria: I really liked that. And also, I really liked you said, let’s see if my podcast voice works for this, and then you didn’t use your podcast voice. You sounded like, a British like — [bad British accent] join me!

Oliver: No! I don’t know where that came from.

Cambria: Guys, I’m so glad you’re gonna join us with this podcast. This is the kind of content we’re here for.

Oliver: Okay, meditation exercise aside. I hope that set a good … scene? For today’s topic.

Cambria: It’s like I was there.

Oliver: Outdoor Recreation. I wonder if I could have a future in guided meditations or if that was just creepy.

Cambria:  No, no, no, I think you do. I think we should do a side podcast where that’s all you do.

Oliver: Maybe.

Cambria: A vaguely British intonation old guide.

Oliver: Slightly creepy.

Cambria: Guiding you to breathe. In, sort of, the woods where everyone likes to be — in the woods with an old man.

Oliver: [Creepy old man voice] Sleepy time with Ollie. Anyway, anyway, listeners, let’s rein it back in. Today on Can of Worms we’re gonna dive into the topic of outdoor recreation. Utah has a rich history of excellent outdoor recreation, with world-class skiing across multiple resorts, five national parks and approximately 71% of Utah being on public land, Utah is world-renowned. This topic also seemed appropriate because so many students at the U come here specifically to recreate — I mean where else can you go to class in the morning and ski pow pow in the afternoon?

Cambria: Pow pow. That’s what they call it here in Utah, the locals. If you come here to Utah, you know and if you say ski pow pow you will be, you will basically be —

Oliver: Accepted in loving arms.

Cambria: Yes, they’ll know that you’re in.

Oliver: And today’s episode, I want to discuss Salt Lake’s history of recreation, explore why so many of us love to recreate, if Utah’s increase in population has negative effects on recreation and how both students at the U and Utah locals can get into popular activities safely and responsibly. Also, stay tuned because this episode features some exciting search and rescue stories. I’m Ollie, the host.

Cambria: I’m Cambria, the producer.

Oliver: And you’re listening to Can of Worms. Stay with us.

[Main Theme]


Oliver: Okay, since this is a University of Utah-sanctioned podcast —

Cambria: ‘Sko Utes!

Oliver: — we’re going to focus on recreation that people enjoy close to the U. So we’re going to focus on the wonderful Wasatch Mountain Range.

[Retro radio voices saying “the Wasatch Mountain Range”]

Oliver: I grew up recreating in the Wasatch Mountains, going hiking in Mill Creek Canyon and I learned to ski and Little and Big Cottonwood Canyon. But I don’t know a whole lot about this area’s history. So I want to talk about that for a second.

First, I want to acknowledge that for many years, the Wasatch Mountains were occupied by Gosuite, Shoshoni and Ute Native American tribes. These indigenous groups lived off the land for many years, mostly using the valley as seasonal camps and going into the Wasatch ranch to follow game or fish. The word Wasatch itself is derived from the Ute language which translates to “low place in the mountains” or “mountain pass.” Around the 1820s, trappers were told of abundant wildlife in the Wasatch Range and surrounding areas such as the Uintas. They were followed by Mormon settlers, who arrived in 1847 and declared the Salt Lake Valley as the place to settle and build their community. Unfortunately, these Mormon settlers had a different relationship with the land and the indigenous groups that lived there for years before them. Mormon settlers needed wood to build their homes so they established lumber mills along the Wasatch Front. The mining industry started to grow as well, which required timber to support mine shafts. Because of this, lots of the large trees in the area were cut down, specifically around mining areas like the town of Alta. Sheep grazing also became common in this time, the sheep would over-graze the area, destroying lots of the natural vegetation, which would then cause landslides and flooding.

And the timber in the Wasatch was exploited so much that by the 1880s, timber had to be brought in from the California Sierra range because of all these environmental harms caused by the first people settling in Salt Lake. By the 1900s, the Wasatch Range was in a state of disarray. The trees were gone, and the watershed was becoming constantly polluted. Because of this, in 1906 a presidential proclamation created the Wasatch National Forest to protect its resources. A few years later, a reforestation project began to preserve this area and the watershed. In 1910, the Wasatch nursery began and Big Cottonwood Canyon, which today is now Spruces Campground. Here they grew millions of native conifer seedlings that were then planted in the surrounding areas for around 10 years. These trees make up a large portion of the forests we now enjoy today. Also, a few non-native trees can be found where the Wasatch nursery used to be.

Okay, okay. I’m sure some of your listeners are thinking, “Yo, what’s what’s the history lesson dog? I came here for badass search and rescue stories, yo!” We’re getting there. I just thought first, it was important to acknowledge the indigenous people that were native to this place for years before being pushed out by settlers. Also, I thought sharing this could give some listeners newfound respect and appreciation for this area next time they are climbing, skiing or hiking in these canyons.

Now, onto recreation. So where were we? In the early 1900s. This is around the time that people started skiing for fun in the Wasatch. The Wasatch Mountain Club was established in 1912, which organized ski tours that explored the Wasatch Mountains. These trips would last a few days, and would mostly start in Park City, touring over Scotts Pass and into the Brighton area. This seemed like an interesting time in skiing. Here’s a quote from K. Smith, who was an early pioneer in Utah skiing and would later run the Brighton ski school for 20 years.

I’m going to attempt to do a K. Smith voice, but I don’t know what he sounded like.

[Rough and gruff southern drawl] “Going down Thaynes Canyon was a hairy ride, because really didn’t know how to stop. We’d get up there at the top of Scotts Pass and give the first skier a head start because you couldn’t see him around the bend. We’d just hope that you [he] didn’t fall, because you were right behind him. The wind was usually blowing snow across the ditch, and the ditch banks were about as high as [y]our shoulders. So you just sat in there and away you went.”

Cambria: That was pretty good.

Oliver: Thank you. A few years later in the 1930s, the first rope-tows were installed in the Brighton area, allowing faster uphill travel. Then, in 1938, the first ski lift was installed at Alta, going up the face of Collins. In the years following, ski areas began to be established. Around the time that skiing was becoming popular, people began rock climbing in the Cottonwood Canyons. The earliest record of climbing activity in the area dates back to the 1930s, where Harold Goodro put up a decent amount of first ascent in the Cottonwood Canyons. Goodro was also a founding member of Alta Ski Patrol, skied and climbed all over the world and taught outdoor adventure programming and environmental awareness education at the U.

Cambria: ‘Sko Utes!

Oliver: Gooo Utes. A local climbing club by the name of the Albenbock Club established a lot of firsts descents in Little Cottonwood Canyon in the 1960s, as well as some famous climbers at the time, such as Royal Robins and Fred Beckey. There are currently two routes in the Wasatch, named after Harold Goodro and Fred Beckey today. Now let’s jump forward back to the present.

[Fast forwarding sound effects made by mouth]

Oliver: Today, recreation is thriving, and more popular than ever. The Division of Natural Resources’ outdoor recreation division director shared that more people are recreating outdoors than ever before in Utah. A report from 2022 shares that the outdoor recreation economy and Utah grew 27.3% from 2020 to 2021. According to the BEA outdoor recreation satellite account, this is the largest recorded measure for Utah since the BEA started calculating the size of the outdoor recreation economy in 2012.


Oliver: So why are we seeing such an increase in recreation? Part of it could be due to all these online platforms promoting how great it is.

[TikTok montage of various people talking about Utah’s recreation]

Oliver: This could be well we’ve seen such a big increase in visitors in National Parks in recent years. But I want to explore a bit more about what makes people want to come here in the first place. Why do people like to recreate? So I talked to a professor here at the U that teaches this kind of thing.

Nate: My name is Nate Furman. I’m associate professor of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, focusing on Outdoor Studies. And I direct the U-EXPLORE program. And so, U-EXPLORE is the academic outdoor program where students, you know, they might enroll in backcountry yoga or sea kayaking, Lake Powell, and I’m the person behind the scenes to make sure that everyone has permits and if there’s problems that they get solved or not solved, or, but I’ve been doing that since 2014. And, like, I love my job. I think I have the best job on campus.

Oliver: Nate grew up recreating in Northern California, spent years working for the National Outdoor Leadership Program in Lander, Wyoming, and has a PhD in parks, recreation and tourism. So we thought he was the guy to talk to you about why people recreate.

Nate: There’s multiple reasons that like, in this case, people thrive in outdoor recreation activities, I think one that maybe isn’t the first to come to people’s mind is, it’s just a community that you can form, doing outdoor recreation things and having shared passions with your friends. Like it can be really immersive, and just a powerful way of connecting with, with other human beings. Like the shared experiences of going for a rock climb, or going for a ski or just going for a hike, you know, up in Big Cottonwood Canyon or something like that time and space you have together is really special. Like I think that, like the conversations that you have, while like hiking can be something where like, you’re able to reveal more about yourself and who you are as a person. It’s like, the depth-ness and the richness of connection because of the time and because the shared interest, like I think can can be really, I don’t know, impactful for folks.

Oliver: The theme of community and the importance of community continues to come up on this show. It makes sense that shared experiences in the outdoors are a big part of why people love to recreate outside. Nate also explains seeing progression and these activities is a large part of why people enjoy them.

Nate: Oftentimes, but not always, a lot of these activities are skill-based. And so there’s like this progression of like, you start as a novice, and then you learn a little bit more and you maybe get a little bit better. And you can move on to intermediate. And while you’re not like checking boxes, like yes, I’m an intermediate or whatever. Like there’s a natural progression through developing these skills in these different activity sets that I think is pretty, I don’t know motivating or compelling for for different folks.

Oliver: This next part I thought was interesting. Nate talked about the ways outdoor experiences you have stick with you.

Nate: In terms of experience and what we – what we mean when we’re talking about experience, like the concept of experience has different, like levels or stages of it. And two of the things that I think are really important are anticipation and nostalgia. So kind of like what we look forward to with an upcoming experience, and then how we reflect on that experience in the past. And I think that, you know, whether it’s going for a hike or whatever sort of outdoor recreation activity, there is this buildup of anticipation of looking forward to it. Maybe there’s other emotions involved, depending on what it is, you know, if it’s skiing-based stuff, maybe you’re checking the weather and getting excited about how good or whatever the snow conditions are going to be. And then after the fact, like, these memories are so concrete, that the nostalgia experience like looking back and maybe we label a type two fun or type three fun or whatever, but kind of the reflecting on the experience can also be like, I don’t know, powerful and different than, than many other types of, of recreation experiences or life experiences.

Oliver: Nate then related this concept of outdoor experiences to river teeth in a river.

Nate: David James Duncan wrote a book called River Teeth. Have you read it by chance?

Oliver: I have not.

Nate: It’s awesome. And David James Duncan his way into, like the concept of river and the ideas of rivers. But he has this one metaphor, where he talks about river teeth. And what a river tooth is, is, like, at one point, like a tree falls on a river and floods downstream and then it gets lodged somewhere. And as the water flows by it erodes, like all the soft wood and all the soft wood just moves downstream and but there are some places in the wood that’s like really hardened by pitch. It’s really resistant to water and that’s all the will remain after like many many years and decades. And that idea of river teeth of being this like core, this hardened pitch of the experience like I think in the outdoors, we’re able to create this these river teeth for ourselves, because it’s like the most durable, strongest part of our memory that can be created through just meaningful experience in general, but in some cases, outdoor recreation.

Oliver: So just to recap a bit, Nate talks about how these pieces of wood get lodged into parts of the river, and over time, as water erodes the wood, only the strongest core is left. Sometimes you can have fairly hardcore extreme experiences in the outdoors. Whether it be a multi-day backpacking trip or a hard day out mountain biking, whatever it may be, these experiences get to this core part of ourselves that make quite an impactful experience. Now that we’ve covered a little bit about why people love to get into outdoor outdoor recreation, I want to highlight how we can get into these types of activities. Because sometimes sports like rock climbing or skiing can seem daunting. There’s a lot of gear and knowledge involved. But I think talking about ways these activities can be accessible is important, because these experiences are beneficial for everybody. For students in the U, the U-EXPLORE program is a great place to start. And I’ll let Nate talk a little bit more about what it is.

Nate: We serve, presently, around 1800 students a year on about 90 different classes ranging from desert backpacking to, like, mountain biking Zion, to rock climbing and avalanche education, stand-up paddleboarding, so our emphasis really is on kind of nature-based, human-powered recreation. I think that we’re a really good entry point for people who are outdoor recreation curious and outdoor recreation committed. Most of our classes are completely set up for beginners and novices like you don’t have to come to our classes, like having previous outdoor recreation experience. And I think that for folks that really don’t have much outdoor experience and are interested, we provide an access point that can take you to all five national parks, that can take you to some of the hidden gems that are around the state that like are seldomly visited for sure. And it’s really a great chance for people to connect with, like what Utah is, is as a state, and kind of like the overall context for how the University of Utah is situated.

Oliver: U-EXPLORE classes are great. The classes are centered around four learning outcomes: developing skills in an activity, learning how to do it safely, learning about the conservation of these places and about public lands — since such a large part of where we recreate in Utah is on public lands — and then meeting other students.

Nate: We want to develop teams of friends. And this is really important to me, personally, because I think that, well the — you know, the University of Utah is generally thought of as a commuter campus. And I think students often come here and don’t have chance to form like strong, solid peer relationships. And what U-EXPLORE does is I think, I think we’re really successful just not because we do anything special, but spending time in nature with other people you tend to like, become friends or not always but like it’s a really good place to, to kind of develop relationships that are meaningful and find future adventure partners.

Oliver: If U-EXPLORE sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can find these classes under the class schedule.

Nate: We’re located on the course schedule, same as any class that you would register for. You can find this under PRT S, which is Parks, Recreation and Tourism, snow-based courses. PRT W, which is water, and PRT L, which is land. And so we just divide our courses up into those three different environments.

Oliver: Now U-EXPLORE is a great option for students currently enrolled at the U. There are also a number of clubs with a focus on outdoor recreation, such as the Utah Freeskier Society, the Women’s Outdoor Leadership Initiative, Backcountry Squatters and many more. But what about those of you that aren’t students at the U that are interested to learn more about the outdoor recreation that Utah has to offer? Here’s Nate again:

Nate: There are a number of opportunities. The Wasatch Mountain Club, which has been in existence for over 100 years, they’re an organization that serves a local community of any age and has like many different activities to offer from mountain biking to mountain climbing. And they do a really good job at connecting people together to have outdoor experiences. I think that there’s Osher Lifelong Learning here through the University of Utah, which serves non-students, and that’s mostly for people who are retired or of that age. But it’s a tremendous service for seniors. There are a lot of continuing education classes that are open to the general public where they can enroll in a class regarding outdoor recreation. The internet of course has like lots of good information, things like AllTrails, can can give people itineraries for where and when to go to different locations.

Oliver: Nate also wants to emphasize the outdoor recreation doesn’t have to mean crazy days backcountry skiing. You can have meaningful experiences in many places outside.

Nate: There’s natural places all around us. And you don’t have to have like, you don’t have to go to the canyons to access them just the wonderful parks that Salt Lake County has. And the Jordan River Trail is amazing. One of my favorite places is just the West desert because it really is the Wild West out there, like you can get in your car and do an auto tour and see wild horses from the side of the road — really connect with this massive landscape that has incredible historical significance.


Oliver: But for those of you that are interested in pursuing goals of snowcapped mountains, there are a lot of local resources for learning how to responsibly navigate the mountains. With such amazing access to great backcountry terrain here in Salt Lake, we wanted to explore how somebody could begin to get into these activities. So we talked with Francine Mullen, who works for the Utah Avalanche Center, about the accessible resources there are for education on recreating in avalanche terrain.

Francine: So first with like, on snow education we do have — we offer three different types of on-snow education classes, the first being our four-hour rescue class. So it’s four hours on like a Tuesday or Wednesday and you go and do rescue practice. Basically learn how to use your transceiver, learn how to strategically shovel, learn how to probe and we focus just on single burials. And then we offer a 10-hour — it’s about 10-hour — Backcountry 101. So it’s a two-hour classroom session with an eight-hour field day. That’s kind of your teaser up to a recreational level one. Often times I think people come in to their level one which is that traditional like two field days, kind of feeling like they’re getting fed from the firehose, and the Backcountry 101 was created just to bridge that gap basically. So when you go into your level one, you know you’ve heard the term faceting. At least you’ve like put skins on and have walked around just to try and make that experience in your level one a little bit more.

Oliver: There are a lot of avalanche level one classes being offered in the Wasatch, but the Backcountry 101 classes that the Utah Avalanche Center provides more basic information and experiences so people feel more prepared going into an avalanche level one class. The Utah Avalanche Center has other great resources for avalanche education.

Francine: One of our programs we’re really proud of is our Know Before You Go program, which is a program that brings presentations to schools, groups, like student groups with own you know, around the university for ski clubs or snowboard clubs, snowmobile clubs, and it’s a free one-hour presentation is just avalanche awareness. So we go over like what is an avalanche, and it’s that teaser up to like an on snow course. And then, part of that program is kind of its own thing, which is our e-learning. So, Know Before You Go e-learning and it’s 10 hours of free online learning, which is fantastic.

Oliver: A lot of these courses provided by the Utah Avalanche Center are accessible and low-cost. And with a sport like backcountry skiing, it’s so important to make sure you are taking these classes to keep yourself safe in the backcountry. Becoming familiar with skiing somewhere like a resort is a great first step before going into avalanche terrain, then taking your time learning the necessary skills is very important.

Francine: Avalanche education is very much so a lifelong journey. And I think you have to give it space to be that and to really, you know, take in what’s going on like after your level one, you’re not going to know everything, all of a sudden it takes years of just time. And so like once you get to that point, I think just giving yourself time and being patient with yourself as you are learning a new sport because as we were talking about, snowpack and each – each year is ever-changing and it’s pretty complex. And I think it’s really important to give space to those complex things.


Oliver: Okay, lovely listeners, and Cambria has been lingering here all along.

Cambria: I have.

Oliver: Let’s do a little debrief. So far. In the episode, we’ve discussed a little bit about Salt Lake’s history of recreation, why people love to recreate and how you can access experiences to recreation. Now I wanted to shift gears and talk about the inherent dangers of recreation. And if more people coming here to recreate has led to more serious injuries and rescues. So we talked with Shaun Roundy, who works for Utah County Search and Rescue for some insight into this.

Shaun: I’m Shaun Roundy. I’ve been a search rescue team member here in Utah County volunteer for 23 years next week.

Oliver: With 23 years of experience, Shaun was great to talk to you about the dangers of recreating and what you can do to be smart about it. He got into Search and Rescue originally because he loved to recreate, and his dad was on the Cash County Search and Rescue Team. Here’s Shaun again.

Shaun: And immediately you discover that all the things you love to do: climb, ski, hike, mountain bike, whatever. It becomes multiple times more rewarding when there’s some little kid out there lost or when there’s somebody with broken bones, and you know, they’re gonna die if you don’t find them and take care of them. And then you pile on top of that as well, this excellent team, how we’re trained well, we’re ready and we have experience. And we — everyone’s, while there may be some personality conflicts — but during a mission that almost always goes away. Because the unifying purpose like the reason we’re there, we all know where that is, we’re going to relieve somebody’s suffering, we’re gonna save somebody’s life. Or we’re gonna find someone and bring them home or at least give closure for family in the more unfortunate incidents.

Oliver: First, let’s talk about how Search and Rescue works. If you call 911 and are somewhere where Search and Rescue is needed, the Sheriff’s Department will send a search and rescue team to your location. Search and Rescue is entirely volunteer-based. So most of the time a rescue is free of charge.

Shaun: Because we’ve had a few rescues where people would have died without our help. And they didn’t call us because they thought they’d be hit with the multi-thousand dollar bill. I remember one night, there was a jet ski that had sunk, several miles out in Utah Lake. And so, when they were overdue, someone called us, and we ran our big search patterns, and we found them. And that jet ski, of course, was nowhere to be seen. But here’s this couple swimming toward shore, about 30 feet apart, and as our first boat slowed down in the water and somebody reached out to help the woman into the boat. The guy shouts “Don’t touch her!” And I’m like, what? Of course we don’t assume she was like a zombie or had some terrible disease or something. So we helped her into the boat. And then his next question was, “How much is this going to cost me?” And we’re like, “Hey, we’re volunteers, we’re not going to charge you a penny.”

Oliver: Things like an ambulance or Life Flight can be charged to your insurance. But if you’re in a position where search and rescue is needed, don’t hesitate to call. I was curious when researching this episode if rescues have increased since more people have begun to recreate in Utah. And I found the answer quite interesting.

Shaun: There was one moment that stood out for everybody across the whole country. And that was COVID. Suddenly, you can’t go to the movie theater. You can’t go anywhere. And so people head outside. And so we saw that year, that first year, was a lot of people went places they had no experience. And experience, of course is what you get when you don’t have experience. And so they didn’t always have great judgment. The first one of these I remember was somebody who climbed up hiked up to Little Baldy up here just above my home here. And it’s 7,00o-something feet. And on the south face, it was pretty dry. And they went over and then they decided to go down into dry canyon, and now they’re in four or five feet of snow, they’re up to their waist, they’re wearing cotton clothing — do not wear cotton in the winter, or anywhere you’re gonna get wet and cold because it sucks the body the heat off your body. And we call it killer cloth.

Anyway, so they were trudging through the snow and decided to keep going until they had nothing left. They’re out of food, they’re out of water, they could not even move. So we headed up, there are three of us headed up on motorcycles to try and get there a little sooner. We found them. We got them sitting on something, you know, off the wet snow, off the cold snow, we gave them some food — that is the best way to warm up is get some calories in you. It’s not even hot chocolate, just sugar, whatever calories you can get, got them hydrated and sat with them for about 10 minutes. And then they — their strength began to come back. So we didn’t have to carry them out. And we were able to just walk them back down the trail. But that year, we had 171 or [175] rescues. So almost doubled how busy we were. And we were wondering, we were really curious to see if that trend would continue the next year, I don’t remember for sure. Maybe … just 120. And it’s been kind of back in our normal range since then. So even though there is a lot more recreation, a couple of things that have helped is a lot of times it’s in areas, it’s in popular trails where a lot of other people go and a lot of those people who go are prepared.

Oliver: So like we mentioned earlier in the episode, accessing the resources available to you to learn how to recreate responsibly is key. Also, being prepared is a big part of going out to recreate, bring a headlamp, bring warmth, clothing, that kind of thing. Even though Search and Rescue have a great team, you don’t want to be in the position to call them. Another key part of recreating safely is being able to slow down to assess your surroundings and your judgment.

Shaun: And then the last thing I’ll say to answer that question is if you get up there, and it’s this beautiful bluebird day and it just snowed three to six feet and it is perfect and you are feeling so good … slow down. Because that feeling really good, screws with — it messes with your judgment. And you feel like, “Ah, nothing bad can happen,” and people die because of that. I know, I’ve seen multiple people dead because it was this beautiful day and they knew they shouldn’t have gone there, but they went there anyway. And that was it. That was the last ride of their lives. Don’t do that.

Oliver: Shaun has been in many rescues where the death or injury could have been prevented if they were more prepared or had better judgment. So even though there are so many great experiences you can have recreating outside, it’s important to take these sports seriously.

Shaun: Let me just put in a plug: Y’all be careful. Stay safe out there. Don’t take crazy chances. Because sometimes it’s gonna go your way and you’re gonna get a million hits on your YouTube channel. Yay. So managing that it’s not you’re gonna die, you’re gonna break yourself up.

Oliver: One of the main things is to focus on being safe. Knowing your tolerance to risk is an important skill to have in the outdoors. And not taking any chances that could seriously put your life in danger is one of the main ways to stay safe while recreating. Now in Shaun’s 23 years of experience working with Search and Rescue, he’s accumulated lots of crazy stories to tell. And I want to share a few in this episode. Here’s a few that I thought were quite funny.

Shaun: First one’s not so funny, but a little bit. So there was this race, this major adventure race gone to the county. And this biker slipped and dislocated his shoulder and did some pretty serious damage to the shoulder. So we went together. And on the way up, I heard you know, on the radio they were talking to — somebody had a radio up there maybe was FRS radio, and some other racers had stopped, like — this is so cool — stopped help this guy, like they were near the front of the pack, at least the first guy was, he was probably five back from the from the front. He was pushing it. I know him personally now. And they they stopped to help him you know, and, and they pulled out the radio and they said, “Hey, I have a flare.” And our guy on the radio said, “Okay, shoot that down canyon,” and I thought “Oh, that’s gonna be trouble.” And sure enough, rather than popping it up into the sky toward the west, he aimed it down canyon, and pulled the little chain on the end and shot this fireball down into a stand of dry pines. And I thought, “Oh, now we’re really going to be tested if this thing lights up and sets the mountains on fire.” And luckily it then plopped into the stream and extinguish itself, so.

Oliver: Here’s another slightly amusing search and rescue story.

Shaun: Another favorite is there was a boat on the lake one Sunday night and their motor went out, wouldn’t engage the drive. And so they so we were responding. We had our search teams out, you know, in the general direction, and the guy would call in every once in a while, and I’d hear Tom, our sergeant, or sheriff guy, on the phone with him. He’s like, “Okay, okay, thanks. Okay, bye.” Hangs up the phone. He’s like, trying to assist: “They’re directly under the moon.” Then he calls back another one the phone, he’s like, “Okay, I see three planes. Which one are you under? All right, all right, thanks.” Turns off the phone. He’s like, “They’re under the first one.” Like … which one is that? He just turned his phone off at some point, like, “We’ll just find them.”

Oliver: Not all rescue stories are as funny. This next story involves some descriptions of major injuries that can be hard to listen to. Just as a quick content warning.

Shaun: A night there was a kid — this is one of my favorite rescues because it was hard and it took all night and we made it happen. He would have hiked up past upper falls in Provo Canyon. He’s about six waterfalls up this drainage, and then he fell off the 50-foot cliff and landed on his face. And at 50-feet fall there’s like a 50% chance of survival rate, so we’re really happy this guy’s alive. Busted his face all up, maybe that’s a good place to land on. We’ve picked up multiple people who fell 50 feet on their face and live because all those sutures can crack and absorb some shock like a helmet, I mean. Anyway, his face is all black and blue and we’re like, let’s get him out of here. It was too dark for a hoist because back then they wouldn’t hoist at night and had to get certified for that. And so we’re like let’s get him out of here. We lowered him over six waterfalls, took all night stuck in the ambulance, just as dawn was beginning to light the sky. But, um, the the first waterfall actually — it’s not really a waterfall, it’s just a steep thing with a river flowing down next to us. We were going down and we had about six attendants on the litter with a rope, lowering slowly down and – and we were holding it and as we went along the people in the back would say would say, “Okay, there’s a log coming up on your right, watch out.” And, “Okay, thanks. Good. Got it.” You know, it was just a smooth operation. And we got down to the next station, we had teammates that would tie it onto another anchor ready to put them into their new rope and lower them down. And I said, “Guys, that could not have gone any smoother, great job.” And from in our little muffled bundle where we had him all packaged up and sheltered from the water and cold and all, we hear this a muffled voice say, “I love you guys.” And that was the first time it occurred to me like, how scary would that be to be like jostling around in the dark, totally strapped in, he can’t move. And then to hear people just calmly talking and like, “Okay, good job, thanks, smooth.” How, you know — and that’s gonna affect your medical outcomes too, to lower your blood pressure a little bit.


Oliver: If you want to read more about Search and Rescue stories like this one. Shaun has a book called “15 Search and Rescue Stories,” which can be found on Amazon. Listeners, I hope as we’ve navigated through stories of rivers, mountains and waterfalls, you found some motivation to either continue recreating in this amazing place. Or it’s piqued your interest to go out and find some new areas to explore.

Cambria: Has this — has listening to these guys helped you, it’s piqued your interest in exploring more?

Oliver: It has! I think the search and rescue stories were kind of a wake-up call to how both beautiful and dangerous the outdoors are. And if you are gonna get into these activities to you know, be smart about it, which I think for the most part I am but you know, you can get caught and really good days outside where your judgment does kind of go out the window. So I think that’s really important. And I also thought that all the opportunities we have living in Salt Lake is amazing.

Cambria: Yeah, I really liked what you’re talking about, like knowing your risk tolerance.

Oliver: Yeah.

Cambria: Because that’s different for everyone. Like some people can’t or like, oh, like their degree of like, oh, yeah, I can make this jump is different for everyone.

Oliver: Oh, yeah.

Cambria: Or just like as an example. So I think that’s, that’s great.

Oliver: Yeah, when I wanted to scout camp growing up, there was this kid named Rhett that would jump over cliffs.

Cambria: Oh!

Oliver: Let me set the scene on a cliff. He could run and jump from one rock ledge over like a five-foot cavern.

Cambria: Sure.

Oliver: To another rock ledge. So he knew his risk tolerance. I don’t jump over caverns, still don’t. So yeah.

Cambria: Because you know your risk tolerance.

Oliver: I know my risk tolerance.

Cambria: Yeah.

Oliver: But sometimes, you know, when you’re going out with like a new group of people that have been doing, I don’t know, mountain biking or something for years and know, like their risk tolerance and the trails that are good for them. You can get kind of caught up with the crowd, and then suddenly you have a broken leg and you gotta call Shaun, you know.

Cambria: You gotta call Shaun. And you gotta —

Oliver: And he would come and he would make you laugh, but —

Cambria: He will make you laugh. He’ll make everything better. But you know, you want to avoid those situations.

Oliver: Yeah, exactly.

Cambria: Yeah, but I think it’s great. I mean, I go camping with my family all the time. Like, we’re campers. I don’t do like lots of like hiking or like hardcore biking or skiing, even.

Oliver: That’s fair.

Cambria: But we do like to go in the outdoors. And I think people who haven’t camped before should at least do it once.

Oliver: Yeah.

Cambria: Because I think it’s a really fun time to be out in the wilderness. You know?

Oliver: I think so too.

Cambria: Like learning how to do it safely is really important. And also the community! That’s what we always come back to is the communities are the best part.

Oliver: Yeah.

Cambria: Meet people. Learn to assess your risk tolerance, make friends do backflips together off a rock!

Oliver: If that’s in your risk tolerance.

Cambria: If that’s in your risk tolerance. Don’t do — backflip off of a rock safely, people.

Oliver: Yes. And then again, I just want to thank those that we interviewed for this episode: Nate Furman at the U, Francine Mullen from Utah Avalanche Center, and Shaun Roundy from Utah County Search and Rescue. Also, thanks, Cambria.

Cambria: You’re so welcome.

Oliver: Our wonderful producer for editing and helping put the shows together.

Cambria: Hey, thanks for having me.

Oliver: We love to have you.

Cambria: It’s great to be here.

Oliver: And for the Daily Utah Chronicle. So thanks for listening. This has been another episode of Can of Worms.


Producer: Cambria Thorley // [email protected] // @cambria_thorley
Host: Oliver Jones // [email protected] 

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About the Contributors
Oliver Jones
Oliver Jones, Podcast Host
Oliver Jones is a podcast host for the Daily Utah Chronicle's narrative podcast. He is currently a junior studying communications and minoring in environmental science and sustainability. Outside of school and the Chronicle, Oliver likes to ski, rock climb and bird watch.
Cambria Thorley
Cambria Thorley, Podcast Host
Cambria is currently a sophomore at the U and is majoring in English. She loves to write and will talk about the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies for longer than anyone wants. If you’re trying to find her, try looking for her at the car wash — she doesn’t work there, she just really likes car washes.
Mary Allen
Mary Allen, Design Director
(she/her) Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Mary is thrilled to be here at the University of Utah studying graphic design. She feels very lucky to get to rub shoulders with the talented people that make up the team here at the Chronicle and is learning a lot from them every day. Other than making things look cute, Mary’s passions include music, pickleball, Diet Coke, wildlife protection, and the Boston Red Sox.

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