SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A 74-year-old man was found dead after spending a night hanging upside down on his climbing ropes at Zion National Park, the park superintendent said Thursday.
Yoshio Hosobuchi was making a rappel in the Subway, a popular and demanding canyoneering route about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City.
His 61-year-old wife was unable to free the man, who was found hanging Wednesday over a waterfall, Park Superintendent Jock Whitworth said.
Hosobuchi was from Novato, Calif., and had no experience navigating the Subway. He was caught about midway in a narrow 9-mile chasm with fast-moving cold water.
His wife hiked out after some difficulty Wednesday to alert rangers, who had to wait until early Thursday to recover his body with a helicopter.
It was the first death of a hiker in the Subway in many years — park officials were unable to immediately determine when the last death occurred there, although they are frequently called to rescue distressed hikers.
"We're still investigating it," Whitworth told The Associated Press. "It was not real clear to us what happened."
What is known is that the man bypassed a more gentle descent down a rock slab for a vertical descent that left him unable to use his feet to maintain traction with rock, he said.
Hanging in a harness for too long, especially upside down, can cut off a climber's blood circulation, said Mike Banach, a guide who is familiar with the Subway and says many hikers are left at their own peril because commercial guiding is prohibited inside the park — they would compete for a limited number of hiking permits.
"People are going in without knowledge or experience and don't even have the ability to hire a guide," said Banach of Zion Mountain School in Springdale, Utah, the park's main entrance. He guides hikers outside Zion National Park.
Banach said the accident happened at a 30-foot drop that isn't considered difficult if done correctly. He called the death puzzling.
Whitworth summed up the dangers of the subterranean route in a statement.
"The Subway is deceiving. It is a very popular trail, but very difficult — the 9-mile hike requires rappelling and ascending skills, extensive route finding experience, and swimming through several cold and deep pools," Whitworth said. "Unfortunately, its location inside the wilderness also means that rescues are not always possible or timely enough. Sound decision making and problem solving are critical."
Later Thursday, park authorities offered other details. They said that when his rope jammed in his belay device, Hosobuchi used a knife to cut his waist belt in an effort to free himself. However, the harness slipped down his legs and became entangled with his right foot as he tumbled over head-first inside the waterfall.
Hosobuchi appeared to be pinned by the force of rushing water, park spokesman Alyssa Baltrus said.
The couple had received local training on navigating slot canyons and had successfully climbed Keyhole Canyon on the park's east side before taking their "bucket-list" trip into the Subway, she said.
"Our message is you can learn the basics of canyoneering, but what happens when something goes wrong is hard to teach quickly," she said.