TNSAR Search 03/04/2008

Donner Peak rescue

Check out the interview on a Sacramento news station with Russ Viehmann and Paul Honeywell.

TNSAR was called out at 7:35pm for two female snowboarders stuck on a cliff somewhere between Mt. Judah and Donner Lake. By 9:15pm the Nordic teams had left Sugar Bowl Judah Lodge in search of the girls.

One of the subjects had a cell phone and could direct Truckee fire to shine a spot light on them. It was discovered with the spot light that the girls were on the North face of Donner Peak. Their position was about 2/3 down from the summit towards the railroad tracks, about 300 yards from the Eastern edge of the face. Conditions were firm with an East wind of 5-10mph.

The Nordic teams had much difficulty getting onto the face and to the subjects. Armed with ice axes and crampons, Nordic 1 reached the first subject at 10.42pm. They gave a jacket to warm the subject and moved on to subject #2.

Subject #2 was in a more precarious position than the first, at the top of a 30 foot cliff on a steep patch. After some fancy footwork Nordic 1 reached subject #2 about an hour later. They then waited for the Sugar Bowl High Angle team to assist in the evacuation.

At 11:37pm three patrollers arrived on scene about 300 ft above subject #2. At 12:31am one patroller repelled down a 350 foot line to Nordic 1 and subject #2. By this time the other Nordic members had helped subject #1 down below the snowsheds. After two more repells, the three remaining on the face made it to a cozy fire below the snowsheds at 2:50am.

All teams and victims rested and warmed up for a few minutes and then prepared to hike out. Following a bull headed 0 degree North heading, the teams arrived at Old US 40 at 3:47am.

Here is the account from David Wright, one of the Nordic searchers, along with some pictures.

The 2 subjects were on the North by Northeast face of Donner Peak, in one of those snow filled cliff crevasses, probably steeper than the "Poop Chute" and only feet wide, likely above a cliff band. Nordic 1 skied a lower route off Judah while Nordic 2 took a higher route.

TNSAR members at the team truck had intermittent headlamp contact with us and the subjects from HWY 40 and was vectoring us towards them. Nordic 2 skied as far as possible, then carefully stuck the skis where they couldn't leave without us and went into spider mode working up steep snowy cracks. The snow was fairly good for climbing, but it was very slow going. The weather was not a factor, very little wind, clear and in the 20's. Avy danger was minimal. It was dark, so headlamps, flares and spotlights from HWY 40 here highly visible.

Most of the time all I could see was the snow slope 6"-8" in front of my face. With Mike above me, we took turns ascending as some of the debris coming down was big enough to get our attention. Jimmy took a slight detour to the West but reached a point where he could not continue about the same time Mike reported no-go from above me - at this point we were only a few hundred feet to the East of the girls. We down climbed and traversed back to our skis.

Meanwhile, Nordic 1 reached the girls from a lower approach, but it sounded steeper than our adventure. The girls were a little ways apart, in OK condition. It was difficult enough that it took Paul a long time to get the last 20' to the higher subject #2. It was determined that a high angle team was needed at this point - 3 guys, I believe from Sugarbowl Patrol got to the top of Donner Peak fairly quickly, located the right cliff notch and roped down to Nordic 1. Nordic 2 was on standby mode now so we built a fire and just as it got comfortable we were told the plan was to rendezvous at a gap in the train shed below and to the West, and then everybody head down to Donner. They needed the snowshoes Mike was carrying. Now, back on skis, we worked our way Southeast then NorthWest to the train shed, where we met up with Jeff who was going back and forth from the rescue site ferrying gear and making a safer down track for everyone.

Nordic 2 built a roaring campfire below the break in the train shed to light the area, and to provide a welcome, warm spot to evaluate, hydrate, take a headcount, rest and get things in order before heading down to the lake. A fire justifies some of the stuff in a search pack that you think could be left out - saws, fire starting goo, storm proof matches - 3:10AM and we needed marshmallows.

Eventually we could see the tiny spots of light slowly working down towards us, and soon everybody was packs off and relaxing a bit. It wasn't long before our wood stash was gone so we redistributed loads, got the girls on snowshoes, and basically followed the path of lEast resistance to the NorthEast. With the exception of a few low branches trying to upend the snowboard carriers, we made it to HWY 40, a bit West of where we intended, but it seemed like the easiest route. Three vehicles zoomed in on our exit spot seconds before we hit pavement - Russ V, Steve T, Dave Hunt and a nice lady in a big Sugarbowl transport SUV - we all helped the ropes team up the last few steps - (they had really heavy loads) - a final head count, then back to the Sugar Bowl first aid station and our vehicles - food and drinks waiting and much appreciated as it was still too early for DLK to open for breakfast - a big thank you from the girls, a quick de-brief - then home.

Overall a nice outing - lessons learned: You cannot be too familiar with likely search terrain - night and day trainings definitely in my future. Extra stuff in the search pack - can't be overly prepared but still want to keep the weight down - probably won't though - marshmallows, Hershey bars and Graham Crackers don't weigh that much.

Sheriff Dispatch Comm Van Truck Skiers Snow Cats Snowmobiles Other
Dave Hunt Terri Viehmann
Diane Rienstra
Lisa Schwartz
Russ Viehmann
Steve Twomey
Jim Rienstra
Jim Smith
Jeff DeVries
Mike LeFrancois
Paul Honeywell
David Wright

Truckee Fire (lighting)
Truckee Police (infrared radar)
3 Sugar bowl patrollers