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.

November 3, 2009

A Trail Lost

There one minute (sort of) and gone the next. It happens a lot. And the guidebook they were using has only hand-drawn, cartoony maps that sure don't lend themselves to good navigation. It's a popular guide book by a well-known local figure, but all it's really useful for is deciding WHERE to hike. From there, a topo map along with a Flagstaff or Sedona trails map is what you need. And apparently the Harding Trail, our subjects' hike for the day that turned into a long night, is very difficult to follow on the rim, with sporadic and confusing cairns and what I'm told is barely visible, if not altogether invisible trail, in some places.

But the two lost ladies were better prepared than some. They had water and snacks. They had a light source (although I think they had just one between the two of them). They had the means to start a campfire and the ability to make and receive phone calls with their charged up cell phone. They also stayed put until we found them. Then we put out their campfire with our extra water, set the then-chilly hikers up with some extra layers of clothing from our "warm-up bag," and walked them back to the SAR vehicles. From there, they were given a ride back around to the campground below in Oak Creek Canyon, where their vehicle was parked.

And what a great turnout we had for the team! I didn't actually count, but I believe we had at least sixteen people show up for this Monday night search. We had two teams of two on ATV's, driving forest service roads and rough two-tracks. We had teams in SUV's, also searching roads (the lost hikers had reported they were on a road, though it turned out to be a no longer used, barely discernible road), and four of us were designated as a hiking team.

After we four hikers also searched by vehicle for a while, we parked the truck and headed cross-country towards the trail along the rim of Oak Creek Canyon, calling and blowing whistles as we went along. Just as we thought we heard a distant shout, Ranger (the DPS helicopter) showed up, spotted the subjects' campfire and briefly hovered over them.

We searchers headed in the general direction the helicopter had hovered, less than a half-mile from our location. As we continued to hike, I entered into my GPS the coordinates Ranger had given to Incident Command and confirmed our distance and direction to the subjects, whose responses to our calls were growing louder. Within minutes, we arrived to find two relieved ladies in good shape, standing close to their warming fire.

I was home at 1:30 A.M.

Now it's off for a few days to the Escalante area in Utah to do some hiking. Hopefully, my SAR friend and I will get one of the daily permits to hike The Wave. I've heard it's awesome.


Cactus Huggers said...

Thanks for the story.

Have fun in Utah!!!

MyLifeOutdoors said...

Must be rewarding. Do you ever find yourself growing tired of lost hikers?

Deb Kingsbury said...

Honestly, no, I'm not tired of lost hikers. Rather, I'm not tired of going on missions to look for them. There have been plenty of times in the past--before I was in SAR and learned some really valuable skills (and lessons)--that the lost hiker could very well have been me. I was lucky, I guess, and never found myself in that situation, but when I look at the errors that are made that get people lost or stranded, I can identify with many of them.

What does bother me in general, though, is how unprepared so many people are. At least when people have appropriate gear, they can hang out and wait in some relative comfort and safety if they're lost, until we can get to them.

Addy Bell said...

Do you find that being an SAR volunteer makes you a safer hiker? I imagine I'd take fewer dumb chances if the dangers were less abstract.

Deb Kingsbury said...

Hi, Addy...

I'd say yes, definitely. When you see the pickles people get into (and worse) on a frequent basis, it definitely makes you ... well, me anyway ... think twice about what I'm doing and what I'm taking with me when I go on a hike. Always in the dark recesses of my mind is the thought, I really don't want the team (or some other SAR team) coming out to look for or rescue me. Looking back, before I started with SAR, I wasn't always as prepared for the unexpected and definitely wasn't as skilled at navigating.

Desert Dog said...

It is sooo easy to lose the trail around here. Once you get off the popular trails they don't get much traffic. Let's hear it for the map and compass!