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‘Shoulder Season’: Search & rescue crews warn of changing conditions in Utah's backcountry

Posted at 10:09 PM, May 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-24 00:25:10-04

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s a unique time of year in Utah where temperatures bounce back and forth and the threat of adverse weather conditions can pop up in a matter of minutes.

Members of the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team refer to late May as the "shoulder season."

“[The weather] looks great, and then it goes bad on you. It can rain, it can snow, and most importantly, the water starts flowing off the mountain,” said Alan Bergstrom, a 20-year veteran with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team. “It’s a very scary time for us; It’s a short time where the water is hard and fast.”

Bergstrom’s concern is the snowmelt and runoff contributing to some dangerous conditions at area creeks, streams and rivers.

“It’s fast, it’s cold, it never stops, you don’t realize how strong it is,” Bergstrom said of how people commonly underestimate the power of water.

This past weekend, a hiker was stranded on the opposite side of a creek near Little Cottonwood Canyon. Salt Lake County SAR responded to get the hiker safely back to the other side.

In Utah County, a number of hikers and climbers had to be rescued with the help of helicopter hoists.

“We start to get people out who just aren’t prepared for the weather conditions that they’re going to encounter up here in the mountains,” said Chief Dave Marsella with the North Fork Fire Department, which provides medical assistance on search and rescue callouts near the Sundance area and Provo Canyon. “At 8, 9,000 feet, it’s still winter.”

Both Marsella and Bergstrom warn of the changing conditions this time of year and the drastic difference in temperature depending on elevation and location.

“Plan on inclement weather — dress appropriately," Marsella. "Flip-flops are not appropriate for hiking up the side of the mountain."

Bergstrom and Salt Lake County SAR always recommend the "10 essentials" to anyone preparing to head out into the backcountry.