Junction man recovering after Grand Canyon hiking accident

If you compiled a short list of things Nic Korte loves, it would have to include his family, wild birds and the Grand Canyon.

Sunday, on what was Korte’s 98th day hiking in Grand Canyon, Korte, a consulting geologist in Grand Junction and an avid birder, took a serious fall that landed him in the Flagstaff, Ariz., Medical Center with a broken pelvis, arm and femur, a head injury and multiple abrasions and contusions.

But it could have been much worse.

Korte, 59, was looking forward to spending his 100th day in Grand Canyon while on a six-day camping/hiking trip with his daughter, Ann, 29, and her husband, Ryan Leonard, a firefighter with the Grand Junction Fire Department.

According to e-mailed reports sent Thursday by Ann and Ryan, the threesome was hiking Sunday in the remote Tapeats Creek area of the North Rim. Up till then, wrote Ryan Leonard, the trip had been near-perfect, with good weather, decent trails and the outstanding Grand Canyon scenery.

While checking out a possible route (there are few well-developed trails on the North Rim; most travel is done expedition- style), the ever-cautious Korte gingerly stepped on a boulder about the size of a “suitcase,” Ryan said, and the rock gave way under his weight.

“That test released the rock and part of the hillside causing Nic to lose his balance and roll down a 40-degree slope for approximately 30 feet and then (another) approximately 20-foot drop-off into a dry stream bed with large boulders,” Ryan wrote in his e-mail. “It was one of those things where nine times out of 10 it’s okay; however, the 10th time the rock and ground gave way.”

Ann also watched her father fall.

“We heard him yell, ‘Oh no, oh no’ as he tumbled sideways down the slope and then disappeared over the edge of a vertical embankment,” Ann said. “Everything was silent after that except for me screaming.”

Nic was unconscious when Ryan arrived but shortly came about.

“He was ... bleeding from the front and back of his head and his left side was (seriously) damaged,”

Ryan’s account reads. Korte obviously had internal injuries, which made getting him out of the canyon a priority.

After determining Nic was alert, Ryan and Ann decided Ryan should leave for help. The choices were to climb back to their car (maybe 15 miles and 4,000 feet up) or head to the river, which was 10 miles and 2,000 feet below them.

Hoping to find a rafter with a satellite phone to contact the National Park Service, Ryan ran toward the river.

In an impressive effort of steep cross-country running, he covered 10 miles in two hours.

Hurtling past, over and through trees, boulders and cactus, he could only think, “My pain is temporary compared to Nic’s.”

He ran along the river for another two hours until he found a rafting party with a satellite phone, but it took another hour to reach park headquarters.

He was told a helicopter would ferry a paramedic into the canyon, but with night falling, Nic would have to survive the night in the backcountry.

Meanwhile, Ann sliced up her pack and cut some branches to cover Nic and wondered what happened to Ryan.

“As hours passed, I started to get more and more terrified,” Ann wrote in her e-mail. “I was worried that Ryan might have gotten hurt rushing out to get help or that he just wasn’t able to find anyone. My dad was getting so cold that I climbed under the vegetation with him and tried to lay over his chest as much as I could to keep him warm. He just kept shivering.”

At 6:30 p.m., Ann heard a helicopter flying low and she jumped up, flashing her headlamp. She wasn’t sure she had been seen, but about two hours later, a paramedic named Brandon climbed over the boulders, carrying an immense first-aid pack.

A shot of painkiller, a sling for Nic’s arm and splint for his leg made him a lot more comfortable and eased Ann’s worries.

The paramedic’s “calm demeanor and positive attitude put both Dad and I more at ease,” said Ann, who had nothing but praise for the National Park Service. “After Dad was a little more comfortable I sat down a little ways away and sobbed uncontrollably. It felt good to be able to let all that emotion out, especially since I knew my dad was in good hands.

“At that point I felt reasonably sure he was going to make it.”

The small helicopter came back at daybreak and dropped a sling to hoist Korte and the paramedic out. They were flown to a larger helicopter waiting nearby, and that helicopter ferried Korte to Flagstaff.

The small chopper went back to pick up Ann and then on to the river for Ryan. The pilot ferried those two to their camp and then to their car.

The latest report says Korte underwent two, five-hour surgeries to repair his broken body, and doctors
say his recuperation could take a year.

But it might have been worse. Without the strength and quick-minded help of family, Korte might not have lived to see his 99th day in the canyon.

It will take a while, but that 100th day is sure to come.


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