A 38-year-old Boy Scout leader rapelling with six troops fell Tuesday afternoon in the Sally Mae Wilderness after losing contact with the rope.
The man was airlifted to a Valley hospital with a possible broken left arm, facial lacerations and bruising to his ribs and legs, said Tonto Basin Fire Public Information Officer Jeannine Cheek. None of the troops or four adult chaperons was injured.
Around 4:30 p.m., the Gila County Sheriff’s Office received a call from one of the adult chaperons that a man in their group had fallen while rapelling into the Sally Mae Creek in an area known as “the jug,” a short way from the Sally Mae Trail. The trail follows an old rancher road which hikers deviate from to get down into the creek, Cheek said.
The remote area is located east of Roosevelt Lake in Tonto Basin.
While rapelling down the jug, the man someone how fell from the rope, although Cheek said she did not know if he had let go of the rope or if it was an equipment failure.
After falling, the man briefly lost consciousness and, when he awoke, was not able to walk.
Two of the chaperons took the children and hiked out of the canyon to call for help, while two other chaperons stayed behind with the man.
After receiving the call at 4:40 p.m., Tonto Basin Fire personnel reached the trailhead at 5:10 p.m. and finally reached the man at 6:15 p.m.
“It is a very, very remote area, and it is very hard to get in there,” Cheek said. “It is a nasty area, like an inverted wine glass that people like to go down into to go swimming.”
When a medic finally reached the man, they realized they would need to carry the man three quarters of a mile down the canyon, so a Ranger helicopter could pick him up.
The medic, along with the two chaperons who stayed behind, carried the man over slippery rocks and streams until they reached the clearing.
The helicopter then flew the man to the other side of the lake and transferred him to a Native Air helicopter that flew him to a Valley hospital.
“This place was really, really bad,” Cheek said. “The medic said it was horrible terrain to navigate.”
Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Commander Bill Pitterle said the canyon is very steep and narrow, making it almost impossible for a rescue. In the past year, Tonto Basin Fire has responded to three other calls in the same area for falls, Cheek said.