Written By: Shane Burrows
The following story was compiled from various interviews, television news
conferences, Associated Press news releases, local news releases, personal experience and
other sources. What that really means is a bunch of the information below was stolen from
a collection of other sources.
Brigham Young University
(BYU) students John Anderson, 25, and Brad Underwood, 24, took a canyoneering trip to the
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, near the boundary with Grand Staircase-Escalante
National Monument. Their plan was to descend the difficult and dangerous South Fork of
Choprock Canyon followed one day latter by a descent of the less aggressive Neon Canyon.
Choprock is a technical route requiring advanced skills that Underwood had been
contemplating for more than a year. Neon Canyon is a route that Underwood had completed
before and would be a repeat for him.
The winter of
2004/2005 had been an extremely wet year in Southern Utah. The canyons were filled to
capacity with chilling ice water and debris from the violent winter storms that had
blasted the area the previous three months. To navigate the canyon, the men would be
required to execute a series of rappels, swim through pools of debris-choked water and
demonstrate knowledge of numerous rock climbing skills. Once entering the canyon and
pulling their ropes at the first rappel there would be no turning back, the pair would be
completely committed to the canyon.
The BYU students
drove to the Egypt Trailhead, off the Hole-in-the-Rock Road, on Wednesday, April 13, 2005.
Their strategy was to be out of the canyon two days later. When they did not return by
Saturday afternoon family members notified the Sheriff's office.
On Sunday, 32
searchers hit the ground and began looking in Neon and Choprock canyons. Three helicopters
were called in to help search because of the remoteness of the area.
A helicopter spotted
seven canyoneers from Bozeman Montana and communicated with them from the rim of Choprock
Canyon on Sunday afternoon. The seven reported that they had been following the fresh
tracks of a group of two canyoneers but had not encountered them. The seven were besieged
with their own problems as they attempted to navigate the tricky and intricate Choprock
The Montana group
started their trek Saturday. By the end of the day Sunday the group was shivering and
suffering from mild hypothermia, but they had plenty of food and water. The group found
shelter, started a fire and spent an extra night in the canyon. The Montana group reached
the mouth of Choprock Canyon on Monday. There they where met by the Garfield County
Sheriff and told him what they had experienced.
The Montana group
told a chilling story of swimming through a pool 10 to 15 feet deep in Choprock Canyon.
The group of seven canyoneers found an abandoned rope lying across a logjammed pool of
water. Thinking they could use the rope to get past the logjam in their path, they pulled
it, only to see a gym shoe and a leg tangled up in it. They dropped the rope in alarm. The
group took a moment to gather their wits and went back and again pulled up the rope, but
this time there was nothing tangled in it.
After hearing this
gloomy tale the Search and Rescue (SAR) team had a pretty good idea where to look for the
missing canyoneers they had been searching for since Sunday. The SAR team dutifully
notified the families of the current situation. But until the details could be confirmed
it was reported in the news that the group from Montana had spotted fresh footprints in
Choprock so that is where the search was being focused.
morning four rangers with the National Park Service rappelled about 260 feet into the
canyon and found the bodies of the two men about 2:30 p.m. in the pool of water. The
victims were wearing shorty-style, summer-weight wetsuits (3mm neoprene). This style of
wetsuit is usually used for canyons with only a small amount of water exposure during the
hot summer months. The victims were found with a complete array of technical canyoneering
gear, including ropes.
The pair was found
in a deep section of slot canyon less than 2-feet wide in a pool of water. The pool was
40-yards long and 10-feet deep. An almost impossible climb out on the upstream end and a
rickety logjam on the downstream end guarded against escape from the pool.
Speculation is that
the pair had entered the pool and then tried to throw their rope on top of the logjam
hoping it would catch on something so they could pull themselves out. Exit from the pool
would have been difficult but should have been within the abilities of the pair. Guess
work leads many to believe that the pair arrived at the obstacle already fatigued and
befuddled by hypothermia. The water in the slot was reported to be in the low 40-degree
range, air temperature was hovering around 40 degrees. The pair was only wearing summer
weight wetsuits that were not designed to handle long exposure in such chilling water. If
the pair had of been able to escape the logjammed pool they still would have been
challenged with over two hours of extremely difficult canyon to descend.
duplicating the route three days later, but wearing full wetsuits (6mm neoprene) reported
that exiting the pool was difficult but could be accomplished by experienced canyoneers.
After locating the
bodies the SAR team hoisted them 260 feet to the rim. The extraction was made particularly
difficult because the canyon is quite narrow at the recovery point. The
bodies were then flown out by helicopter. After being identified by relatives, the bodies
were sent to the state Medical Examiner's Office in Salt Lake City to determine the cause
of death. It is suspected they died from hypothermia or drowning.
The group of seven
Montana canyoneers ended their adventure on Tuesday, when they arrived at the Egypt
Comments on the death of my son,
John and his friend
Brad Underwood had participated in several rock climbing events and decided to try the
excitement of exploring a slot canyon in Escalante. They knew that they needed some
protection from the cold water. So they bought some wetsuits (mid thigh) and headed for
Garfield County to explore the Choprock and Neon canyons. The plan was to do Choprock on
Thursday, then explore Neon on Friday and make it back in time to take some finals on
Although you can go
on the internet and get a fair amount of information and some beautiful pictures of Neon
Canyon, you will not find very good information about Choprock canyon. Some have commented
that it is a real benefit, because then it is not used as much and only those "in the
know" will go into that canyon.
Choprock south fork
turns out to normally be a much more technically challenging canyon than most. Combine
that with the fact of a large amount of water runoff this year and you have a very
difficult challenge even for the best prepared. The water content of the canyon creates
additional "traps" or pools with log jams that have to be climbed over. All this
makes it more difficult and a very cold passage through the canyon.
There was another
group of 7 people that came through the canyon after John and Brad. Because Search and
Rescue was looking for John and Brad, they gave this second group the information that
saved their lives. Otherwise they would not have made it out of the canyon. The helicopter
called down to the group of 7 and asked them if they knew about John and Brad. They said
that there was another group ahead of them. The group then asked how close they were to
the final rappel. They were told that they were a long ways and that they should not try
to get through the canyon that day. It turns out that they were in the last place where
they could have tried to camp for the night. They were not prepared to camp for the night.
They had to try and sleep in their wet suits. They were able to get a fire going after a
couple hours and put up some logs to give a little protection against the wind. They said
that they were very cold and only about one member said that they were able to sleep.
The group commented
that they could see the wet handprints of the John and Brad on the canyon walls and could
see that they executed some maneuvers, which they tried. But they said John and Brand must
have had excellent upper body strength because they couldn't do the same maneuvers.
After a couple hours
(the next day) the group of 7 came to a pool of water with a climbing rope. They polled on
the rope and up came a couple legs. That scared them and they backed off. But they knew
that they had to continue through the canyon. They then pulled on the rope and it came up
This second group
had two 18 year old boys that were able to monkey crawl up the walls to get on top of the
logs and then help pull up the rest of the group. These seven also would not have made it
out without these two because the leaders were hurt and couldn't do as much. This group
was from Montana and had been to these canyons several times before. But they had never
done the south Choprock. The information they had said that it was just a day hike.
Because of the
information from this second group, the Search and Rescue could focus their search in the
correct area. It was very difficult to get the bodies out of the water. There was not even
enough room to put on scuba equipment and get in the water. They had to rig up a method to
pull them up about 300 feet to the top of the canyon walls.
So in summary, I
think that these two young men were excited for a new adventure. They were physically
prepared, but didn't have the correct clothing for that much water and they should have
planned for a two-day hike. As they got cold, they didn't realize how serious their
condition was. Hypothermia sets in and your thinking and actions become confused and slow.
They also probably didn't think they had any options but to just press forward. Which was
essentially true after they had left the area where the second group had camped.
John lived life to
the fullest. He had an infectious laugh and was excited about life. He didn't shy away
from doing something because it might be dangerous. We need to also be sure that fear
doesn't limit our enjoyment of life.
Comments from Brad Underwood's wife:
Thank you for your accurate
article on my beloved husband, Brad Underwood and dear friend, John Anderson. First of
all, I must say that I would not want Brad and John to be remembered by how they died,
rather, how they lived.
Brad and I married in August of
2004. John was the bestman at our wedding. Although our life together on this earth was
not long, Brad exemplified every positive characteristic. He is strong, yet sensitive.
Talented, but unassuming, brilliant, but humble. Brad earned the respect of thousands of
people, literally. No small task. His influence is far-reaching and up-lifting. What I
write here cannot do him justice.
John Anderson, a dear friend, is
much the same way. His infectious laughter and outstanding character endeared him to many.
There was no way around it, once you met John, and heard his trademark-laugh, you're
instant friends. John, also, had a bright career ahead of him. Both of these men are truly
Brad and John would often go on
these canyoneering adventures together. Both always came back with their fair-share of
scrapes and bruises, and oh yes, a big grin of victory. Each trip was carefully planned
and thought-out. Hours of research went in to planning each and every excursion. Let it be
known that they were excellent and highly-skilled outdoorsmen. I cannot stress that
EXACTLY what happened, is not
exactly known for sure. Our hearts are broken because of this loss. Yet, we are required
to press on, keeping John and Brad forever in our hearts.
My Kindest Regards,
South Fork of Choprock - Route Description
South Fork of Choprock - Route Description (Members