Sunday, September 24, 2017

Hodgepodge 330/365 - SAR

It's been quite a while since I've gone on a Search & Rescue callout. The national forest locally has been closed since last year's Soberanes Fire, so people aren't supposed to be going into the backcountry and getting lost. And in fact, they haven't been! So that's good, though it's given us less work. We've gotten the odd car-over-a-cliff and suicide (people love our high bridges) this year, but I haven't been available for one reason or another. Occasionally we get a call to rescue someone who's scrambled (illegally) down to the beach below the waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. I have ceased to respond to those calls: the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade tends to get there well before we do (it's a good hour-and-a-half drive for us, never mind the response time of the team to the substation), and that means we almost invariably get canceled en route. I let the paid deputies and super gung-ho volunteers answer those calls. I've got better things to do.

But a lost person: that's an all-hands-on-deck situation. The IC (incident commander) needs as many bodies as possible, to send in as many directions as possible. And yesterday, we had a missing hiker.

It was at Arroyo Seco, a popular campground and swimming area on a river that is normally mellow enough itself, but is surrounded by a steep—sometimes very steep, and high—canyon. Last April we conducted a rescue and a body recovery of a couple of people who had fallen off a raft in a high volume of water (not the case now) in the gorge. Another time, a woman who had slipped and fallen was brought up to safety, along with her dog, with a ropes system. It's a good idea to watch your step—and stay out of fast water—at the gorge.

Yesterday's case involved a young woman (37) who was camping with several friends and decided to take a solo hike at 4 p.m., "to the waterfall." She said she'd be back for dinner but didn't show up. Our first SAR team callout came at about 11:30 that night, and a few of our team headed out to start searching. I joined in on the second operational period the next morning.

Ultimately, it wasn't us who found her but a volunteer wilderness ranger (that's one of my other volunteer hats) who had been the last to see her the day before. She'd gotten turned around and headed down a drainage in the wrong direction. She got wet; it was a cold night, and all she had for warmth was a cotton shawl. She was not a happy camper. But eventually she decided to hunker down—she described creating some insulation out of brush and leaves—and then, later, turned around and tried to make her way back. At a certain point, out of frustrated desperation when she hit a big pool, she yelled for help. The ranger happened to be on the trail right above her. Soon she was hoisted out of the canyon by H-70, the local CHP chopper, and all was well! Success story—the best sort.

As always when I respond to a SAR callout, I was glad I went. I really enjoy the camaraderie, the teamwork, the feeling of doing something useful, of helping someone. I got a great hike in with my good friend Bob and we were able to catch up. We even saw a tiny horned toad and a tarantula! My life was complete!

Here are a few random pictures that I took and that my colleague Alain took. It was a good day. I'll try to remember that the next time my phone starts erupting with messages.

Our team leader Ken, contemplating the gorge
Eric radioing in before plunging into the cold water
(he's wearing a wetsuit, but still)
Jerry went with Eric: they make
quite a duo!
Here we are that morning getting briefed:
that's Ken on the right, and I'm in the middle
with Bob in the hat to the left; I am always
happy to try to keep up—I mean, hike—
with Bob
Another view of our briefing: we were a pretty small crew,
but fortunately it was all that was needed
A beaut of a swimming hole

1 comment:

  1. Glad this was a good outcome. Thank you for your volunteer service.