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Expect The Unexpected
As a teacher, I view a search as kind of like a pop quiz (or test, depending on the circumstances). The student might have an idea one is coming their way but it’s usually a surprise. While preparedness is key, oftentimes there are things that are difficult to anticipate.
One thing I had trouble anticipating about the Michigan Bluff search were the weather conditions. I knew it was going to be wet and cold but I certainly didn't expect to hike from snow down into rain, climb up into foggy snow, descend back down into rain and then climb back up into fog and light rain. So where the heck am I going with this you might ask? I guess what I am trying to get at is, do your best to prepare for the unanticipated. In my case, I brought two extra pair of gloves, an extra hat, and two extra shirts. This was especially critical for me on this time because I made things difficult early on by heading out from the command post with a little bit too much steam and ended up a sweaty mess after the descent to the creek.
When it comes to getting ready for a search, prepare for the worst but hope for the best when packing your search pack. You should have everything you need to be self supported for at least 24 hours and a little extra wouldn't be a bad idea.
Alpine Meadows Lost Skier
On Saturday, March 15th at 6:30pm the team was activated in response to a missing skier off the backside of Alpine Meadows. The MP initially called Alpine patrol asking for help. They sent a patrol team out but didn’t find him and returned to the resort. Alpine Patrol called 911 requesting TNSAR.
The daughter of the missing person phoned a TNSAR member and provided a heads up the search was coming our way and the MP’s mobile phone number was provided. TNSAR was able to connect with the missing person and walk him through how to “drop a pin” and share his location. Soon after, we received his location putting him about 2 miles South of Ward Peak, near Bear Pen Creek. Nordic One (four skiers), two of which just concluded their patrol shift at Alpine Meadows beginning at 04:30, were provided a ride to the top of Ward Peak and headed into the backcountry to the provided coordinates. Meanwhile, Alpine Patrol provided a Snowcat ride for Nordic Three (four skiers) while Nordic Seven (five snowmobilers) followed to the top of Ward Peak. Weather conditions were absolutely perfect; clear skies, no wind and a full moon illuminated the night sky, which aided in the rescue.
Shortly after Nordic Three and Seven’s arrival atop Ward Peak they spotted Nordic One making their way to the MP. Nordic One requested assistance and Nordic Three dropped off Ward Peak to aid in the rescue. Nordic One indicated they had verbal contact with the MP. It took about an hour to navigate the terrain to make visual contact and meet up with the MP at about 21:15. The MP was doing fine, provided water and snacks along with a warm layer and a game plan was formed to hike him out. Nordic Three split into two teams. Nordic Three headed to stage at Grouse Ridge to rendezvous and Nordic Four proceeded to intercept Nordic One to aid in the hike/ski out. About an hour later all the Nordic teams were together. The MP had dropped his skis earlier in the day attempting to climb up the steep terrain and was now struggling to make time/distance in his boots. A TNSAR member switched boots and gave the MP his skis to make the trip out. Meanwhile the TNSAR member now was enjoying the hike out in boots two sizes too small.
The Nordic ski teams and the Nordic sled teams both used aerial flares to hone in on each other’s location to determine a route to meet up. They proved very helpful. The Nordic teams along with the MP descended from Grouse Rock towards Sherwood chair and were met up by the snowmobilers and Nordic Five (two skiers) on a high bench just below Grouse Ridge for the final descent to the ICP at Sherwood. Everyone was out of the field and on their way home sometime after 1am.
Michigan Bluff Lost Trail Runner
On March 30th Robert Root left Michigan Bluff with his running club for a run on the Western States Trail. There was a fast group and a slow group and Mr. Root had joined the slow group. Shortly after the run started, his group stopped and he decided to try and catch the fast group. The fast group ran along the Western States Trail to Swinging Bridge where they turned around and returned to Michigan Bluff the same way they came. They did not see Mr. Root on their return trip, nor did the slower group. After a hasty search of their own, his running group called 911, Placer County SAR was called out and search efforts were carried out until dark that night.
Searching resumed the next day with an even larger ground presence as well as air assistance. As it turns out, the MP saw the helicopters on day two but was unsuccessful in his attempts to signal them. He also took an exploratory trip in an attempt to get re-oriented but when he came upon a water bottle he had left behind earlier in the day, he realized he had gone in a circle and yelled some choice expletives into the wind. He took shelter again in the same spot as the night before and did his best to stave off hypothermia. He had some gels and shot blocks for food and some potable water to stay hydrated. Apparently he didn't sleep at all the two nights he was out as he feared getting hypothermic in his sleep and dying.
On the afternoon of day two the weather began to turn with heavy west slope snow showers down to about 4000ft. Five searchers from TNSAR responded to the command post in Michigan Bluff at approximately 8PM which was a pretty much a ghost town by the time they arrived. The searchers deployed in a team of three (Team One) and a team of two (Team Two). Team One would take the Western States trail to the Deadwood area and clear several side trails that had not yet been searched. Team Two would descend down to El Dorado Creek and then head downstream on the Bake Oven Trail clearing all likely areas on the way to the Bake Oven site which had also not yet been searched.
Both teams descended to El Dorado Creek where Team One continued up the hill toward Deadwood and Team Two took the Bake Oven Trail toward the Bake Oven Site. Team One climbed up to Deadwood to find several inches of snow. This made finding side trails sometimes difficult but many of the new prescribed areas were cleared. With at least a four hour hike back to the command post, Team One decided to make the return trip to the command post. But not without one quick sightseeing stop at the Deadwood Cemetery, which one searcher had made very clear earlier in the search they wanted no part of.
During this time, Team Two had traveled down their prescribed route calling out the victim's name and blowing their rescue whistles as well as searching several flat areas that looked to be likely areas to take shelter. Being several hours ahead of Team One, they headed back to the command post where one searcher from Team One joined a group of searchers from the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit and re-deployed to the field to search some of the other trails in the Devi's Thumb/Deadwood area. While commendable, it should be noted that he had donned snowshoes for the effort.
Sometime around mid-day on day three, a search team was having lunch at the El Dorado creek bridge when a man fitting Mr. Root's description, who had decided that morning to go "up and west", appeared at the bridge. All things told he was in good shape, extremely cold, dehydrated and a few scrapes but otherwise fine. He was stabilized by the team in the field and transported to primary care where he was released a few hours later.
Lost Snowboarder In Andesite Peak Area
On the night of March 31st the team was called out to assist Nevada County in the search for a lost snowboarder. The team had already responded a few hours earlier to the Michigan Bluff search so this call out faced the challenge of not having the team truck and its resources. Two ski teams, the snowcat, a snowmobile and the comm van responded to the Boreal command post and were briefed that they were looking for a 25 year old male, split snowboarder who had been out that day with his father. The father related that the son had wanted to ride one more line off of Andesite Ridge but did not return. During this time NCSO received a report of two lost snowmobilers in the same general area as the missing snowboarder.
The TNSAR teams deployed at around 9:30PM with the TNSAR snowcat transporting both teams to the Andesite Ridge area. Snowfall totals put the snow over the tracks on the cat and travel was slow. Upon arrival at the base of Andesite Ridge the skiers exited the cat, checked their beacons, skinned up and began their journey and as fortune would have it, five minutes later, they found the two lost snowmobilers thrashing around in deep snow. They were totally depleted. No gas, oil, water or muscle power to get unstuck. The snowmobilers were directed back down to the cat track where the snow cat was alerted that they were en route. Two down, one to go.
The four skiers moved as one team until they reached Castle Pass at which point they split into two teams. One team headed toward the Grubb Hut and the other team moved up the ridge toward the peak and then turned south and dropped into Castle Valley and cleared that area. The team that moved toward the Grubb Hut thought they found some likely tracks that headed north but the tracks dead ended so they headed back for the pass and then headed for the hut again. The teams contacted each other and agreed to meet back up on the pass as they were very confident that was the direction the MP had headed.
On day two, two teams of TNSAR skiers responded and deployed at approximately 10:30AM. There were already snowshoe teams searching the east side of the pass so TNAR teams searched the west side. They moved toward the Grubb Hut and then clocked south and continued along the west side of Andesite Ridge and on counter clockwise until they were back on the east side of Castle Pass. They additionally searched some of the high likelihood areas east of Castle Pass. They found some tracks that they thought might be the MP’s which went south off the ridge but then joined the cat track down below. Having completed their assignments the teams returned to the command post at around 6PM.
Three ski teams from TNSAR responded for the night shift of day two. One of these teams was dropped at Castle Pass and began another trip up to the peak. Snowfall totals were impressively large at this point and this made travel very difficult for the teams. They determined that if they dropped in towards the Grubb Hut in these conditions, they would not be able to ascend back to the ridge and would instead have to continue down the Castle drainage to Soda Springs. At around this time the radios informed the teams that the missing snowboarder had walked out in Soda Springs after being on the move for over twenty hours.
April 17th (Thursday) -- TNSAR 101
Where: North Tahoe Fire Station #51
When: 6pm North Tahoe Fire Station #51
Contact: Jim Helminiak (use current callout list for phone #)
Who: TNSAR members or aspiring members seeking to get more involved in SAR. What: New Member Essentials. I’m a member, I have my OES card, I’ve been to some trainings, now what? This training will give new members and members that have never been on a search valuable insight to the dynamics of TNSAR. You can count on hands-on experience and the knowledge to help you prepare for your first or next SAR. Contact Jim Helminiak for information and availability, use current callout list for phone #.
April 25th (Friday) -- WEMT/WFR Refresher
Where: SV Community Room
When: 8am SV Room
Contact: Steve Reynaud (use current callout list for phone #)
We have a WEMT and WFR Refresher Course for the weekend of 4/25-4/27. This course requires pre registration to attend.
Holly Beattie Memorial
Friends and family assembled at the North Tahoe Events Center on Saturday afternoon, April 5th to remember the amazing life of long time team member and all around amazing woman, Holly Beattie. Entertainment was provided by The Tahoe Belles and delicious food provided by Full Belly Deli. It was a beautiful afternoon on the lake with a gathering of great people well suited to remembering Holly's indomitable spirit.
Snowcat Purchase From TCPUD
The team reached an agreement with the Tahoe City Public Utility District to purchase the snowcat that had been previously leased from the district.
New Home For Junior Varsity Snowcat
Our back up snowcat has a new indoor home in Old Station 51 (the old Tahoe City firehouse) for the remainder of the season. The only people who should really be accessing the station to use or maintenance the cat are snowcat team members. And just a friendly reminder to schedule a training if you need to use or maintenance the cat.