TNSAR SEARCH 09/05/2003
TNSAR Search May 09 2003

'2 for 1' at Alpine Meadows

We had one of these last year--a "2 for 1" search--that started with a callout for one missing skier. The pagers went off about 4pm, with skiers arriving at Alpine Meadows at 5pm. 7 showed up, and after a quick briefing were on their way up Summit Chair to begin the field work.

George Breubeck, 66 years old of Germany, with limited English speaking skills, unfamiliar with the area, was last seen about 1:15pm at the bottom of Summit Chair by his friend Sharif. Evidently George got off the top of the Summit Chair and went straight ahead, crossing the Pacific Crest, and entering the Granite Chief Wilderness all within a few short steps. The top was "whiteout" conditions, as we soon found out, making it difficult to deduce whether you were stopped or still gliding on your skis.

The 7 skiers split into 3 teams, to cover a wider area, dropping off the back of Summit Chair, the typical express route to the Five Lakes Creek skier collection basin. In short order "Nordic 2" came upon the expected single skier tracks. Nordics 1 & 3 continued their perusal of the area, awaiting confirmation that Nordic 2 had the proper hot track. Nordic 3 came upon another track, and attempted to follow it in support of Nordic 2, but it never joined the first found track. Although puzzling, it was the chief clue for later action.

Nordic 2 quickly dropped into the canyon and located George. Nordic 1 deemed their support unneeded, and especially since N3 was intending to catch N2, returned to the Patrol Shack at the top of Summit Chair. There they waited to provide further assistance if needed. N3 finally aborted their attempt to reach N2 and retraced their tracks to about 800' vertical feet below Summit Patrol Shack.

Rare for the TNSAR, George was found during daylight. He had built a snowcave, and soon after N2 had him on snowshoes and headed out.

It was quite a strenuous hike with the steepness of the canyon. They were finally out shortly after midnight.

Read the thank you note that George's daughter sent to the team.

A couple hours into the extraction of George, at 8pm the Sheriff notified all teams that a possible second skier was missing in the same vicinity.

Ernest Gnos, 71 year old male from Dixon Ca., good skier, had inadvertantly become a back country skier with alpine gear while at Apine Meadows; last seen at 10am. This assured N3 they hadn't been seeing things, and was the essential explanation for the isolated tracks they'd found. They immediately descended back on the tracks. Meanwhile, N1 made careful preparations to follow them with additional support. They developed a "care package" list of additional supplies--headlamps, batteries, food, bivouc gear, etc.--which was snowmobiled up to them from Nordic Base. They promptly packed it up and pursued N3. TNSAR engaged a second callout to bring more skiers in for back up. By 9:00 pm, eight additional skiers had arrived at the command post and stood by for developments in the field.

About half way down the slopes, Steve Twomey advised N1 that instead of following N3's tracks, they should use their altitude more efficiently to traverse down the canyon. Forsaking enticing powder skiing, they cut sharply left, meandered through occasional forest openings and copious thickets, carefully crossed numerous rivulets, and bottomed out a mile down the canyon, saving the flatland slog. Thanks Steve! It's great to have an experienced skier at base analyzing the search and providing useful guidance.

N1 came across another set of recent tracks, which were unsettling--but these were HUGE bear tracks, headed in our same direction. Testing them proved they were made at least as long ago as morning. Good, no interest in making the acquaintance of a recently awaken and hungry bear.

At one point, the Com-Van requested an update from N3: "Are you close to the creek?" N3: "We're in the creek". CV: "You're not getting wet are you?" (More on this later)

N3, being the lead on this track, was meticulously following, even making the creek crossings that the lost skier had. As N1 gained on them, their hydrophobia prevented them from crossing and kept them on the east side of the creek. N3's bobbing lights were eventually sighted, and N1 pulled up on the opposite side of Five Lakes Creek. Read about that interesting regrouping.

A few minutes later N1 comes upon Ernest, 11:45pm. He'd stopped at 1pm, made a couple SOS signals in the snow--boot packed and tree branch, crossed his skis on a knoll, and ensconced himself (minus the comfortable aspect of this word) under a large log, in anticipation for a long winter's non-nap.

N3 was soon on the scene; it was decided that we'd wait here till morning for helicopter extraction. We collectively set about making this the most comfortable passing for Ernest and ourselves. We got a fire blazing, procured water, and settled around the fire in anticipation of dawn. Poetry recital, singing, reminiscence of previous searches, and joking provided entertainment (annoyance?) through the slow hours.

When sufficient light appeared, we collectively hopped to life and were soon on our way to the Diamond Crossing LZ (landing zone) .6 mile downstream. We remarked several times "I hope I'm this active and agile at 71...", as we observed his skiing finesse. At one point I modelled sidestepping at an angle up to a log, carefully spinnning to its perpendicular, then plunging off it into the snow, which he copied flawlessly. He definitely was capable of making the essential tricky moves.

We radioed our readiness for a helicopter (several times I might add), impatiently anticipating its distant "chop-chop". Ernest was the first to go, shuttled to the Truckee Airport. The second trip began with stuffing Mike and Peter and their packs into Placer County's Eagle 1 heli, Mike's skis after a few minutes of struggle to fit them in, and Peter's skis abandoned in the snow; they were also deposited at the airport. Derek was the third transport, with N3's packs and skis, leaving in this case the copilot with Ron at the LZ. Derek was dropped off at Alpine Meadows (due to subsequent dissipation of clouds there. Transport #4 however deposited Ron at the airport.

Members were collected, and those awake enough enjoyed breakfast at a local restaurant.

Read PCSO's press release.

Poor visibility at the summit apparently led to two skiers making the same mistake in the same place. Counting this as two searches, this makes the 15th time Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue has been called since last July, 13 of which have developed into search and rescue operations.

Sheriff Dispatch Comm Van Truck Skiers Snow Cats Snowmobiles
John Perrera
Burt Houser
Jackie Thomas
Kelli Twomey
Bill Healey Alex Penney TEAM 1
Mike Kennett
Peter Sporleder
Paul Honeywell
Peter York
Brian York
Ron Driller
Derek Wilson

Sarah Lagano
Bill Wise
Steve Twomey
Bernie Mellor
John Pang
Doug Read
Joe Pace
Jonathan Laine