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.
September 23, 2010
What a Workout! (A Litter Carry on the Peaks)
A drop of my sweat just missed her face. She noticed and seemed to smile at me apologetically with her eyes, but her injured mouth didn't move. The woman did answer, though, whenever someone asked how she was doing. She was okay, she would say, but her neck was bothering her.
She and her husband, in their early 60s I guessed, had been enjoying a hike on a perfect afternoon on the Kachina Trail, the sky almost as blue as our SAR shirts, when she tripped and did a face-plant into a rock. She'd injured her neck in the fall and, clearly, her face. We weren't sure if she had a concussion, but she was experiencing some anomalies with her vision.
She didn't complain a bit as we maneuvered the litter up and down the rough trail, lifting it over rocks and sometimes struggling to maintain our footing on the narrow trail. It wasn't a smooth ride.
I'd been in the check-out line at the grocery store when the call came in. It would take me at least forty-five minutes to get home, put all the food away, and then get to the SAR building. Too long. So I called our Coordinator and asked where I could meet them. I was told to drive to Snowbowl Rd. and, from there, take FS 522 (Friedline Prairie Road) about a mile in and look for the SAR vehicles at the corrals. From there, I'd hike up an unofficial trail to intersect the Kachina Trail. Apparently, the victim was closer to the midpoint of the trail than the trailhead, so this would be a faster route.
Still re-acclimating after my three months at a much lower altitude in Nepal, I was breathing heavily as I climbed, wondering how far up the trail the intersection was. I'd never hiked up from that road before. I pushed myself to maintain a steady pace as I tried to catch up with my teammates. Before I reached intersection, I saw a SAR shirt up ahead.
The last two teammates in the initial group were moving slowly, one of whom wasn't feeling too well. The other, just ahead, was keeping an eye on her while carrying the extra weight of the backboard on his own back in addition to his pack. At the intersection, he handed off the backboard to me and stayed behind to check on our teammate. I pushed on, unsure how far up that rollercoaster of a trail the rest of the team, the patient, and two Guardian medics were located. Turned out, they were farther than I expected.
Just before I reached the others, one of my teammates met me on the trail and relieved me of the backboard. A fast hiker with long legs, he'd headed back to see if he could speed up the process of getting the backboard to the patient's location, so they could get her secured in the litter and ready for the carry-out. By that time, she'd have been there for a couple of hours, and it would take a least a few more to get her to the waiting ambulance.
With just seven of us on the litter, it was a difficult evacuation. Only one person at a time could take a break, while the rest shifted sides to at least rest an arm.
Using a piece of webbing hitched to the litter railing and then crossed over my shoulders and held by the hand away from the litter helped me make more of a difference. Without the webbing, I was doing all the work with the arm on the litter, which meant my lack of upper body strength compared to my male teammates made me less effective. But my sore, tired arms and dripping sweat were testament to the fact that I was trying my hardest to help. By the time we reached the waiting ambulance a few hours later, I was spent.
A day after the rescue, we received a nice thank you email from the patient's husband. He said his wife was doing well and didn't have a concussion after all. It's a rather rare treat to hear from a subject or the family after a mission.
The next day, our team received another call-out for a litter carry, this time on the Humphrey's Trail. But one of our team members, who lives near Humphrey's, responded directly and quickly and was able to walk the patient out. So the SAR response was canceled.
Two days after that, during the compass class field exercise for the new SAR Academy members, we received another call-out for a litter carry off of Humprheys. Seven of the thirteen of us helping with the class left, reconvened at the SAR building to get the equipment, and then drove Code 3 to the mountain, lights and sirens going. (I have to admit, that's fun.) By the time we reached the trailhead, however, that patient was also already at the trailhead.
Hi, Deb - I love your blog. I hike a lot on the Peaks and Elden and I'm continually surprised how woefully unprepared some people are. I mean, you see folks red-lining at Doyle Saddle with no water, no food, nothing. Guys with young kids pushing for treeline without rain jackets and freezing wind and monsoon thundercells busting around. College kids running full-speed down the Humphreys Trail on wet rocks. Stuff like that. It's a miracle that you guys aren't called out every day up there. My guess is that the only reason you don't is because the trails aren't really all *that* remote and most people can walk out on their own when they run into trouble.
You should do a post on recommended equipment to take along on hikes and such. It'd be really interesting to get your perspective.
I hope I never have to call for your help, but i am sure glad you're doing what you're doing. Thanks (hopefully not in advance!).
Hi Deb. Just wanted to say I really enjoy your blog. (I've been reading it for a while now) I'm fascinated with SAR and all of the wonderful volunteers that are at the heart of it. If I lived near the mountains, I'd definitely want to be a part of SAR. Keep up the good work and thank you for all you do.
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