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 8, 2008

From "700" to "200"

From "disaster response" to a simple search.

This time, we were called out on a straight-forward, find-and-escort mission. It felt great to be able to help someone out of a pickle after the disastrous mid-air helicopter collision of a couple of days earlier. By sharp contrast, this was a search for an out-of-towner on a dayhike who had misjudged how long it would take to walk out and back on Sedona's Huckaby Trail, and, when darkness overtook her, she lost her way. Without any light source, it was impossible for the unequipped hiker to navigate the rough terrain. Lucky for her, she not only had a cellphone signal but one bar of battery charge left, and she was able to call her husband. Her husband called for help, and soon afterwards my pager went off at about 9:30pm as I was lying in bed, unable to sleep anyway.

While Al, John and I prepared our equipment at the SAR building and waited for further instructions, we monitored radio traffic and knew that Ranger was in the air. They weren't having any luck locating the lost hiker, but, with cellphone contact, the deputy at the trailhead was able to determine where she was in proximity to the helicopter. Also, she was able to hear the deputy's siren, she said. So we knew she couldn't be all that far from the trailhead.

It was about an hour's drive from the SAR building to the trailhead, not to mention a short detour when our coordinator, who was in the vehicle ahead of us, made a traffic stop when he suspected DUI. (Turned out the driver was text-messaging, which was causing him to swerve. We'd pulled over to wait for Sergeant D to finish that bit of business before continuing to follow him to our destination.) It must have been about 11:30pm by the time Al, John and I hoisted our packs, carrying extra food, water and a flashlight for the hiker, who we were told didn't have any gear with her at all.

I was a bit surprised the situation hadn't been resolved before we arrived, but the lost hiker's husband was waiting at the trailhead parking lot, very happy we were finally there. As the three of us moved along the trail, I called the subject's name and blew my whistle periodically, and each time we'd stop for a long moment to listen. We walked for about twenty minutes without getting any response, which again was somewhat of a surprise. On the other hand, the trail does veer sharply in one direction and then switch back the other way, so I figured maybe we'd moved away from the subject's position far enough that she couldn't hear us.

Turns out that that was indeed the case, for, when the trail switched back and we'd travelled just as far in the opposite direction, my call received a response out of the darkness. "Over here!" shouted a rather happy-sounding lady. We told her to stay put, and we continued to call back and forth to get a handle on her location. A few minutes later, we found the hiker, who was about fifteen feet off the trail, in the brush. She was in good condition and very good spirits, and, as we escorted her back to the trailhead and her family, she asked question after question about Search & Rescue and seemed delighted to hear some stories. (No one mentioned the helicopter crash, though; we kept it to tales with happy endings.)

At 2am, I signed out back at the SAR building and headed home. Falling asleep was not a problem when my head hit the pillow about half an hour later.

No comments: