Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue, Inc. Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue, Inc.


May 2015

Wow, that winter went by fast. Snow or no snow, I can’t believe it is May 1st already. May Day!  Per Wikipedia:


May Day on May 1 is an ancient Northern Hemisphere spring festival and usually a public holiday;[1] it is also a traditional spring holiday in many cultures. Dances, singing, and cake are usually part of the celebrations that the day includes.

I must confess that I never did the whole May Pole dance but from the looks of it, I may have missed out on a raucous party. These gals look particularly wild. Spring break Krazy!!


However, May Day also brings to mind the word Mayday. A word with a little different and serious connotation.

Mayday is an emergency procedure word used internationally as a distress signal in voice procedure radio communications. It is used to signal a life-threatening emergency primarily by mariners and aviators, but in some countries local organizations such as police forces, firefighters, and transportation organizations also use the term. The call is always given three times in a row ("Mayday Mayday Mayday") to prevent mistaking it for some similar-sounding phrase under noisy conditions, and to distinguish an actual Mayday call from a message about a Mayday call.

Or party or dance. Just saying.

I was made aware of it when I was working on board a dive boat in Key Largo during college. You would follow the Mayday call with the vehicle name, location (lat/long) and type of emergency. Most people we rescue today would probably never thing to utter the word Mayday. Most likely a simple HELP suffices. But it made me think about what it takes to get there and the factors involved. And how that simple call can often be the difference between life and death. Or embarrassment and death. Too early and you might feel embarrassed that you resorted to asking for help. Too late and well you might feel … well nothing at all.

I joined other team members this season in an avalanche class taught by Lel Tone. An amazing lady who spoke on other aspects of survival besides just the science of avalanches. She referred to the Big Red Switch. Basically, at what point do you realize that things are FUBAR and you need help. That it is NOW the time to make the 911 call or utilize some other means to get help.

A lot of factors affect this decision. Pride, fear, stupidity and even cost. I think back to New England and the people hiking Mount Washington. Gorgeous mountain but extremely exposed.  Weather can change instantly and a lovely summer hike can turn a foul. Often calls come in from people under prepared and wanting rescue.

One case in particular I recall was a cell phone call from a gal requesting a helicopter ride down. She was hiking in shorts and it seems she got chilly so she requested to get picked up. The dispatch determined she was really not in peril but was simply inconvenienced. When they asked her if she had a credit card and the cost would be upwards of $5,000 she suddenly found the inner reserves to walk back down the hill.

So, we have all been “out there”.  Fortunately, most of us prepared to handle an overnight. I have never been at the tipping point to call for help. I do wonder how I would be in a situation where I would be forced to make that decision. Part of me would be embarrassed to have to call the team out on my behalf, part of me damn glad that I know our team would be mobilized. I think back at some of the decisions the people in need of our help have done. The guy who stumbled around on Castle Peak and kept coming across his own tracks. That would kind of Blair Witch me out. Luckily, he did okay in the end and found his way out. We “saved” him at somebody’s house. Truth be told, he never pulled the big red switch, his Dad did. I also think of the poor gal on the backside of Alpine. Personally, if I thought I knew where the summit was, and felt I could push for it, I don’t know that I would be trying to hunker down for the night in a cold cave. And with hypothermia creeping in at the edge of my mind affecting my decisions..well, bad choices might be made. We teach kids to STOP but I wonder, faced with the situation, if I actually would?

So like Lel said…..when do you pull it? Last case example. Let’s say you get handed a proverbial typewriter at a meeting you are not even at. And there is a winter without any snow per se so you try to come up with stuff that you don’t even know if people want to read….do you pull the switch??

Remember to get to the meeting no later than 6:30 on Monday for the taking of a new updated team photo.

I hope everyone has a great summer and that we never get the fires they say are on their way.

Looking forward to slipping the kayaks into what water we do have,


The goal of TNSAR is to conduct fast and safe rescues, and to help educate the public on winter safety. If you would like to help TNSAR in this cause, please use the following PayPal donate link. Thanks!

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