How Curated Expert Advice Saved a Hiker’s Life

Camping and Hiking Expert Daphne G. tells the story of a customer whose winter backpacking trip took a dangerous turn and the piece of gear that saved her life.

A brown sign that reads "Entering Zion Wilderness".

A cell phone shot of Stacey’s view from the trail. Photo by Stacey Rodrigues

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It started out as an ordinary conversation. Stacey Rodrigues came to Curated looking for some expert advice about solo backpacking. As a fellow solo backpacker and dog mom, I couldn’t have been more stoked to be her gear guru. She and I bonded on our love for nature, swapped a few pictures of our dogs, and then I got to business sending her my gear recommendations.

I helped Stacey get geared up with all the essentials and sent her off into the world, ready to take on solo backpacking. In that list of recommendations was a SPOT X Two-Way Satellite Messenger, which is a communication device to be used off the grid or out of cell service. It can connect you to family and friends or directly with search and rescue services through the use of the “SOS” button. Whenever I connect with someone looking to go into the backcountry (especially alone), I encourage the investment of one of these devices. Little did I know that this recommendation would end up saving her life.

For more on backcountry safety, check out How to Be Prepared in Case You Get Injured in the Backcountry. Just to be clear, this is my personal, independent view on the gear below, and I’m not getting paid by SpotX, Garmin, or anybody else to endorse a particular product. Neither I nor Curated is providing any guarantee on any particular device’s performance as that’s ultimately the manufacturer’s responsibility to deliver you a working product.

As she made her way through the backcountry trails of Zion National Park last weekend, Stacey found herself enamored with the solitude and peace of a red rock winter wonderland completely devoid of any hikers aside from herself. The trail that she was hiking was intertwined with a river so she frequently found herself hopping, skipping, and jumping over the frozen water in sub 15-degree temps. There was more snow than usual, but that didn’t scare her away.

“In the beginning, it wasn’t too bad”, Rodrigues told me, “There were parts where there wasn’t much snow, and I had microspikes, so, for the most part, I was traveling pretty well. It wasn’t until I got deeper into the canyon that the snow got worse, but I have experience hiking in the snow so I just took it slow.”

Trail covered in deep snow with some snow covered red rock mountains in the background.

A dimly lit, snow-packed trail. Photo by Stacey Rodrigues

Everything seemed to be perfect until her adventure took a turn for the worse.

Stacey woke early on Monday morning to hit the trail before sunrise. She was only a few hours into her second day of hiking when she came upon a larger than normal river crossing. Carefully, she tip-toed over the snow-covered boulders crossing the river, but she lost her footing and her pack threw off her balance, landing her in the water. She knew immediately that this wasn’t good.

With about six miles until the next trailhead where she could reassess the situation, Stacey pushed on, determined to continue her hike.

“I’m not leaving this trip yet”, she kept telling herself, “Just make it to the trailhead.”

The trail grew steeper, and Stacey began feeling the effects of the freezing plunge. First, her feet went numb, then her legs lost feeling entirely. She was stuck. Her heart sank and she felt the severity of the situation growing in her gut. She knew at that moment that she needed to call for help.

Luckily she could. She crawled to a clearing, pulled out her SPOT device, and hit the SOS button, which automatically contacts search and rescue with an SOS message and her pinpoint geolocation.

Search and rescue responded and made sure she was taking steps to stay warm while she waited for them. “I was having such a hard time texting and I was blacking out,” she told me. “There are lapses of time that I didn’t remember.”

A selfie of a dazed looking hiker wearing a headlamp and hat. She is sitting in a snowy area.

A dazed selfie by Stacey Rodrigues as she awaited her rescue. Photo by Stacey Rodrigues

Help was on the way, but it would take a while. Dazed and fighting the symptoms of hypothermia, Stacey knew that she had to keep herself warm and awake until she was rescued.

“I pulled out my sleeping bag and got in it. I tried to pull off my shoes and socks but my socks were frozen to my feet, which looked blue”, she told me.

Rodrigues then took all the clothes and extra layers from her pack and wrapped her legs, doing her best to keep her body insulated. She pulled her Harry Potter book from her pack—a book that she always takes on backpacking trips—and started forcing herself to read from the pages. She knew that she needed to stay awake and aware to survive.

“I keep blacking out,” she messaged to the search and rescue team. She would blink and 20 minutes would go by, time seeming to slip away from her.

For what felt like hours, Stacey continued to fight for her life. Suddenly, she became very hot and sweaty, a sign of extreme hypothermia and her body’s last-ditch effort at warming her core back up. Her consciousness began fading.

“At one point I started thinking, I’m home. I’m warm. I’m with my dog, snuggled in bed. I can sleep,” Rodrigues told me, holding back tears.

“I had to remind myself where I was, that I wasn’t home safe. I was afraid that if I fell asleep, I wouldn’t wake up”.

At long last, a call came from down the trail. Help had arrived.

A search and rescue crew saves a woman in a snowy field. There are five rescuers wrapping her in a blanket.

Search and rescue deputies had to hike in the last mile to reach Stacey. Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff's Search and Rescue, St. George News

Overwhelmed with emotion, Stacey began blowing her whistle and calling back to them. She knew that had they come any later, her outcome could have been much worse.

According to Sgt. Darrell Cashin of the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, Stacey “was conscious and talking, but it was obvious she had difficulty walking even getting out of the helicopter and onto the gurney. She got lucky–everything lined up and had she not been able to use a SPOT, she may have never made it out.”

A helicopter looms above as two people are airlifted. The photo is taken from below and some trees are barely visible.

The Utah Highway Patrol/Department of Public Safety helicopter was dispatched from Salt Lake City to assist with the rescue. Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff's Search and Rescue, St. George News

It wasn’t until she got in the ambulance and the medics struggled to find a pulse in her feet and legs that Stacey understood the true gravity of the situation. Thankfully, the team at Cedar City Hospital was able to find a pulse and concluded that she had no nerve damage. Stacey was lucky to get out of this situation unharmed, which unfortunately isn’t always the reality.

The Takeaway

A woman and her dog sit at a picnic table in a forest area. The woman is wearing a blue coat and the dog is wearing a red coat.

It’s important to remember that accidents such as these can happen to anyone, even the most prepared hikers. Stacey showed up for her trip geared up to the max and ready for just about anything, which inevitably saved her life.

Investing in safety gear such as a SPOT X or a Garmin InReach can mean the difference between life and death if you end up in a situation where you can’t move. Not only can these devices give you a direct line to search and rescue, but they can also provide navigation and weather updates to keep you aware of daily conditions.

Despite the traumatic experiences of last weekend, Stacey still loves backpacking and looks forward to future solo trips.

“One of the biggest takeaways is to know your limits and listen to your gut,” Stacey told me. “I was trying to push myself because I can be very stubborn, but once my gut told me to call for help, I did.”

Stay Prepared

To keep yourself prepared when you go into the backcountry, it’s always important to carry the 10 essentials and tailor them based on the type of trip you’re going on. Follow the list below and connect with me or a fellow Camping & Hiking Expert here on Curated to get set up with the right gear for your trip.

  1. Navigation: such as a SPOT X or a Garmin InReach
  2. First Aid: such as the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .9 Medical Kit
  3. Headlamp (plus extra batteries)
  4. Sun Protection: such as a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen
  5. Shelter: such as your tent or an emergency bivy
  6. Extra Food
  7. A Fire Starting Kit
  8. Extra Layers
  9. Extra Water
  10. A Knife

As a Camping & Hiking Expert, I feel a sense of connection with each visitor that comes through my chats. Bonding with Stacey and ensuring her preparedness for her adventures not only saved her life, but it also reminded me of why I do what I do. It’s heartbreaking to read the news and hear about a life lost in our beautiful wilderness. Any opportunity to prevent that from happening is an honor, and I’m so thankful to know that Stacey is alive and well today because of my guidance and the hard work of the rescue team that brought her safely out of Zion.

Planning a trip into the backcountry? Not sure what to bring or just want a second set of eyes on your gear list? Check in with a Camping and Hiking Expert on Curated to make sure you pack all the essentials!

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Written By
I was raised on the road by free-spirited parents who taught me that I should be barefoot as much as possible and play in nature whenever I can. Fast forward to today and I've backpacked over 1000 miles with many more to go. ​ Camping is in my blood and I'll never stop chasing the wilderness! I've s...

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