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.

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11 Hours Of Sleep And I'm Back On Track

Eleven hours. That's what it took to make me feel human again. I've been running on fumes lately.

First, it was the 3 a.m. page on Saturday morning. I'd been asleep, to some degree at least, for three hours. When the pager went off, I was jolted awake but just lay there, pondering what to do. I was supposed to meet some of my teammates at 8:00 for the next phase of the Rock Rescue Academy, so maybe I'd skip this call-out.

But, of course, I had to phone in to see what was going on: four overdue hikers who'd left at 4 p.m. yesterday to walk a moderate, three-mile trail. I'd say they were overdue.

And I was still lying there in the dark when the pager went off a second time about 10 minutes later. I checked the code, thinking perhaps it was a 10-22 (a cancellation), but no, it was another try. Must not be getting much of a response.

Sure enough, when I called the SAR number again, I heard the identical message and, this time, left a message of my own. After testing my voice, which doesn't always work well when I'm awakened suddenly in the middle of the night, I think I mumbled something like, "This is Deb. I'm not sure what to do because of tech practice later today, but I'm responding." And as I was getting dressed for the mission, the pager went off for a third time. I called in yet again and heard a modified message from our Coordinator, stating that this mission "superseded" the technical rescue training.

About an hour and a half later, six of us were en route to the Blue Ridge area when a deputy located the four overdue hikers. So we made our U-turn and headed back to town, taking it easy so as to avoid a collision with an elk. The big creatures were everywhere in the early morning hours—hundreds of them grazing on the huge meadow that is Lower Lake Mary (unless it happens to have water in it, which is rather rare). They were also grazing along the road, sometimes standing in the road and running across it. I double-checked my seat belt and, from the back seat, kept my eyes peeled for large mammals.

So, Rock Rescue Academy (tech training) was back on. By the time I got home, I had just over two hours until I'd have to return to the SAR building. I figured it would be less painful to go without sleep than try to take a short nap, so I walked my dog and then played around on the computer until it was time to go. Soon, I was loading my gear into a SAR vehicle for the ride to the area where we'd be practicing.

At 5:30 p.m., I was home again after eight hours of training. During the field session, we put together what we'd learned about lowering, raising, and belaying into a working system, each of us rotating between stations, including command, main line, belay, edge, safety and attendant, with the attendant being the one who went over the edge. We practiced both "cold changeovers," when a lowering system is changed to a raising system while the attendant is securely on the ground below, and "hot changeovers," where the attendant is mid-face and must be raised back up. These skills took a lot of concentration on my part, especially being so sleepy, and needless to say, I was pretty well spent by the time training was over.

So, that was Saturday. On Sunday, we had another call-out, this one for a rescue on Mt. Humphreys.

Back to the SAR building I went and then up a mountain, helping carry the wheel for the litter up an off-trail route. We accidentally went a bit out of our way when we headed too far east and missed the intersection with the Humphreys Trail.

After correcting for our mistake and just as we were getting close to the patient's location at around 11,000 feet, we saw that the short-haul attempt was successful. Which was a very good thing. Given the subject's location on a steep, boulder-covered slope at the site of an old plane crash, and with the limited number of people we had between SAR personnel and Guardian medics, it would have been a very long and difficult litter carry. We all breathed a sigh of relief as we watched the helicopter fly off with the patient and our short haul- certified coordinator at the end of a long rope. Following a brief break, we turned around to bushwhack our way back down.

When the mission was over, my day was not. Not until about 11 p.m. when I finally crawled into bed and pulled the blankets over my head. I didn't budge until my dog insisted on going outside at 10:00 the next morning.