YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — A search and rescue team recently pulled a man to safety from nearly 900 feet down in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park officials said the rescue of Dave Christensen of Winamac, Indiana -- who was there illegally -- was difficult and dangerous.
"It took four 600-foot ropes," said Canyon District Ranger Klint Powell who served as the Incident Commander for the rescue.
Powell said it was clear Christensen intended to attempt to scale the cliff face all along, “he had the gear, had a rope, had an ice axe.”
Powell used a unique method to get access to the canyon, which is closed to normal vehicles in the winter months. Most people can only access interior parts of the park on a guided snowmobile or slowcoach tour.
But some are allowed to get permits for unguided trips into the park so long as they know and follow park rules. Christensen obtained one of those permits.
He and a friend snowmobiled to Lookout Point where Christensen tried to rappel to the bottom while his friend waited above with a two-way radio. But Christensen made a big mistake in planning his adventure.
“It was 850 feet down to the river, I think his rope was only 360 feet,” said Powell.
So, Christensen jumped off his rope and scrambled to the river, but he couldn’t make it back to the rope. Powell noted, “he had to go through drifts up to five feet high.”
Weather was also a problem. As is often the case, the canyon was windy and cold and a snowstorm was moving in.
Christensen radioed his friend asking for help and that’s when a ranger led Search and Rescue crew of 11 people from both Canyon and Old Faithful rushed in.
One expert climber was lowered to the stranded man. "It was a long slow haul,” said Powell.
Besides the worsening weather, there were other big obstacles. The volcanic rock in the canyon breaks easily making the cliffs dangerous.
“There’s always potential for avalanche danger as well,” Powell noted. It took six hours to complete the rescue.
“There were times where they would fall headfirst into the drifts while we’re still pulling up,” said Powell. “What makes this place special is its wildness, but it’s got to be respected.”
The canyon had already been in darkness for three hours by the time the man was rescued. Powell said Christensen, 55, was lucky to get out without injury or even worse.
Christensen now has a mandatory appearance in federal court in Mammoth where he’s facing charges of creating a hazardous condition which endangered himself and the rescuers. He also faces a charge of off-trail travel in a closed area.
A court date in the case has not yet been set.