A Gilbert man hiking alone took a 20-foot tumble down a rocky slope Wednesday, badly lacerating his back.
Search and rescue crews eventually had to carry the man out by hand because the canyon was too rough to use a wheeled litter and too narrow for a helicopter landing.
The man sat for some time in pain after his stumble before friends found him.
The 18-year-old had been camping with two other friends at the Bear Flat Campground, 11 miles east of Payson, when he went hiking down Tonto Creek, said Sgt. Terry Hudgens with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.
When the teen did not return for some time, his friend’s grew worried and hiked in after him. They found him half a mile away, reportedly lying near the water, Hudgens said.
The teen had reportedly lost his footing and slipped down a steep slope, roughly 20 feet.
“He slid on his back down the rocks and landed in the water,” Hudgens said. “He had a lot of cuts on his back.”
The teen complained of being cold and suffering internal pain.
Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Commander Bill Pitterle said hikers can easily lose their footing in such a steep canyon.
“There is gravel on top of rocks making for very loose footing,” he said.
Anticipating a possible rope haul, TRSAR volunteers brought gear with them in case they needed to hoist the teen out of the canyon.
Luckily, by the time they arrived, Hellsgate firefighters had reached the teen, put him on a backboard and carried him part way out.
Rescuers transferred the teen to TRSAR’s litter and a dozen rescuers helped carry him out to a waiting helicopter.
The teen was flown to a Valley hospital.
Although the Gila County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse was not deployed for this mission, the group has made many such rescues much easier since its formation two years ago.
The posse figured out how to hook a wheeled litter behind a horse, making it easier and safer to haul an injured hiker.
The horse does most of the work while rescuers make sure the basket remains level and the patient comfortable.
The innovation has made a huge difference in rescuing hikers who have been injured miles down a rugged trail.
In addition, horses have carried dehydrated hikers out of Fossil Creek and even helped locate a lost boy.
On Tuesday night, the posse was called out for its fourth mission of the summer at Fossil Creek.
A couple could reportedly not find the trail out of the canyon and had been walking up and down the canyon.
Posse Commander Earl Chitwood sent four riders down and located the hikers about a mile down the trail, after they apparently managed to locate the trail and make their way out.
Chitwood said this was one of the easier missions.
The group has been training with the sheriff’s office and TRSAR for larger scale search and rescues.
The posse has attracted a large number of loyal members.
Recently, the group held its first large fund-raiser and collected enough funds to last through the year, Chitwood said.
The group plans to buy new back saddles so it can haul more gear for TRSAR.
Chitwood is also training outlying fire departments on using the litter behind a horse.