These are my stories as a volunteer member of the Sheriff's Search & Rescue team in Coconino County, Arizona. I'll share what it's like to go from a beginner with a lot to learn to an experienced and, hopefully, valuable member of the team, as well as the missions, trainings, and other activities along the way.
About Coconino County
About Coconino County
Encompassing 18,661 square miles, Coconino County, Arizona, is the second largest county in the U.S. but one of the least populated. Our county includes Grand Canyon National Park, the Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi Indian Reservations, and the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. Elevations range from 2,000 feet above sea level along the Colorado River to 12,633 feet at the summit of Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff.
July 31, 2008
A Rescue on Mt. Elden
I was standing at the base of a huge boulder, looking up. If I did get up there, would I eventually be able to get down? I'm not very experienced at bouldering, and I'm kind of a chicken, too. But, Liz, who is twenty years older and maybe six inches shorter than I am--and therefore has shorter legs--seemed to think it would be fine to keep going. I looked up again and continued to ponder the situation.
Liz and I were the only non-technical members of the team climbing the south side of Mt. Elden on the night of July 29th, en route to rescue four stranded hikers. With their single light source, they'd signaled SOS, which was not only noticed by someone in a neighborhood below but recognized as a call for help and reported to the Sheriff. Lucky for them!
My pager went off at 8:30pm, while Steve was at his Toastmasters meeting. Sergeant D's message said it would be a technical rescue, but non-tech, regular "ground-pounders" could help carry gear up the mountain. So I scribbled Steve a note--"SAR call, rescue on Elden, gotta git, love, Me"--and headed across town to the Search & Rescue building. There, I met up with Liz and Al, and, after loading a bunch of gear and extra bottles of water and sports drink, we were soon on our way.
When we arrived at the trail access on a neighborhood cul-de-sac, Sergeant D and a number of resident bystanders were gathered around. Several technical team members had responded directly to that location and had already headed up the mountain toward the subjects to try to make contact, while Liz, Al and I loaded climbing gear and helmets into our packs and, along with another tech-team member, set off at a fast clip. The sweat was dripping profusely in no time.
The four of us were on trail for just a short time, until we arrived at the base of a maze of huge boulders. We slowed significantly at that point and began to climb. As mentioned, bouldering is not my forte, but I managed quite well until we hit that gnarly spot where I asked Liz if she thought I should go for it. If she said yes, I'd go ... eventually. But, to my relief, I pondered just long enough for Al to call down that that wasn't the right way to go. Phew! I wouldn't have to decide after all. The rest of the route was challenging but not quite as stressful for me as that one spot, particularly because it was so dark and I couldn't see just how far I'd have to fall.
Soon we made voice contact with the rest of the tech team, who, from their position higher up, had voice contact with the subjects and, I believe, could see their light. From the point where Liz, Al, Phillip and I were standing, the route became too technical for Liz and me, so we were instructed to sit tight for a while. Al stayed with us, as Philip collected some of the extra gear and climbed up to join the rest.
Perhaps half an hour later, as we listened to radio reports from those above and ropes were rigged, the tech team rendezvoused with the stranded hikers, who had cliffed out at the top of "the waterfall." The three young men and one girl had no food or water, were wearing shorts and t-shirts (a bit chilly even for a summer night up on the mountain), and three were wearing sandals. Among them were two from France, one from Australia and one from Washington state, who'd met while staying at the youth hostel downtown. They said they'd taken the bus across town, hiked up the Elden Lookout trail, then lost the trail when it got dark and ended up trying to descend the boulder-covered south side.
Though apparently experienced hikers, the four had certainly not planned or prepared well at all and ended up in a very precarious situation. But not only were they lucky the reporting party had seen and recognized their signal, they were also lucky to have some very experienced technical-team SAR volunteers to get them down the mountain.
At three in the morning, after having gone much of the way down the mountain on my butt, even through the slippery, wet part, caring less about my pride than my neck and other fragile body parts, I signed out back at the SAR building and headed home. I must admit, I was proud of myself for making it up and down that route. It may have been fairly easy for some, but for me it was a confidence-building accomplishment. The adrenaline of that night helped carry me through my work-day at the office after only a couple hours of sleep.
Read the Arizona Daily Sun article about this rescue at: http://www.azdailysun.com/articles/2008/07/31/news/local/20080731_local_178449.txt
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