TNSAR SEARCH 12/04/2003
TNSAR Search 12/04/2003

3 Lost Snowshoers on Benson Hut Traverse

Three snowshoers left Donner Summit on Highway 40 about 10:30 in the morning, Saturday April 12, headed for the Benson Hut, which in the Summer would be a rather simple jaunt. They were David Reno, Sean Faitel, and Sylvia Kang, in their early-mid thirties age-wise, and from the Bay Area. They have considerable experience hiking, camping, and backpacking with each other, but this was their first season delving into the winter realm, inspite of minimal training for this new element. This was a trip they'd planned 6 months prior, intending to spend the night at the Benson Hut; they brought extra clothing for the rigors of winter.

The weather prediction they referenced indicated 1-2 feet of snow at Lake Tahoe, but weather was relatively mild till later in the day, with little snow falling till then. Being unfamiliar with the area, and with increasing storminess, they realized they might not make their destination, nor would be able to retrace their steps to their trailhead. They decided to "hunker down" and summon assistance at 5:15pm. They called 911 on their cell phone; their request for help evidently was routed via Sacramento, then Auburn, then hit the local sheriff's office. TNSAR was called out at about 6pm.

As two team skiers saddled up at the Judah Lift at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, 5 others convened at Cold Stream, in addition to snowcats and snowmobiles. At around 8pm both fronts headed for a latitude/longitude coordinate indicated by the snowshoers in their telephone call. Although they had a GPS, they did not have a compass.

Deep fresh snow was found by all, and trail breaking was a vigorous task. 4 feet of snow was the approximate snowfall from that storm. The two skiers from Sugar Bowl were incommunicado for almost 2 hours, being on the back side of a ridge and (more importantly) the Lincoln repeater malfunctioning. Upon cresting the ridge they contacted the other team members, and decided that the larger team was close enough to the subjects that they could return to their base.

A second callout had been engaged to search for those 2 team skiers. 4 skiers convened at Cold Stream, but upon contact with the 2 in the field and assurance they were fine, the second wave was dismissed.

Meanwhilst the subjects had dropped down to the east side of the ridge, rigged a bit of protection from the elements, and maintained regular phone contact with TNSAR's ComVan. The skiers from Cold Stream carefully chose their route up the ridge, reporting considerable avalanche activity--both seeing evidence of slides, and even hearing one in action. They located the subjects about 1:30am, hiked down (and around) for almost 3 hours, "enjoyed" an hour snowcat ride and arrived back at their trailhead by 5:30am.

Cheers to the TNSAR team! Organzied, prompt, efficient, and proficiently trained in many skills so they can engage late/all night ski tours through blizzards and avalanche hazards--and come back safe!

If this interests you--come to our next meeting! Non-skiers welcome!

Thanks for assisting in the coordinated effort go to Sugar Bowl Patrol and Operations, and the sheriff's department.

Sheriff Dispatch Comm Van Truck Skiers Snow Cats Snowmobiles
Fred Carey
Burt Hauser
Jackie Thomas
Terri Viehmann
Bill Healy Alex Penny Peter Sporleder
Tony Bochene
Doug Read
Peter York
Joe Pace
Russ Viehmann
Ron Driller
Mark Johnson
Sarah Lagano
Paul Cushing
Bernie Mellor
Scoop Remenih
Dave Gleske
Larry Sevison
Ray O'Brien
Rod Mayne