Don’t Forget….to close your windows before the next storm. Also, don’t forget that the next TNSAR general meeting is Monday, January 03, 2011. That’s right, 2011. Happy New Year! The meeting starts at 6:30pm at the Granlibakken Hut. Come early, stay late. And don’t forget that school is back in session….watch out for little people and drive carefully!
Not with a Bang, but a whimper….TS Elliot says the world ends with a whimper, but 2010 surely ended with a bang. Several bangs. Nine bangs to be exact. Between Christmas and New Years 2010, TNSAR was called out for nine different search events ranging from an errant Chihuahua in a creek to a domestic snowmobile dispute to nine lost snowshoers holed up (literally) somewhere near the Benson Hut. We had a search on Christmas night as well as a search on New Years Eve. Though our familial obligations may have suffered because of our absenses during the holidaze, I am sure that the self-less dedication of this Team greatly eased the suffering of our many missing persons. There is no such thing as a search recession, business is booming folks. I’ll try to recap as best as I can remember.
12-25-10…in route from the Bradley Hut to the Benson Hut, nine snowshoers went missing in a Christmas night snow storm. According to their GPS coordinates the group was only 200 or so feet from the Benson Hut, but with zero visibility-white out conditions they could not find the hut. As many of you know, even in clear conditions the Benson Hut is difficult to find. Thus the group made the difficult decision to give up their quest, called 911, and hunkered down to await rescue. Four TNSAR skiers, three snowmobiles, and a snocat responded to the call-out and began the long trek in to Cold Stream Canyon and the ridgeline below Anderson Peak. The going was tough to say the least. At around 1am the first skiers reached the group on a bench below the Sierra crest. The nine snowshoers were holed up in snow pits, 4-6 feet deep, and despite their preparedness with gortex jackets, thinsulate sleeping pads, emergency blankets, and sleeping bags, they were freezing. Literally freezing. Considering their state and the frigid conditions, TNSAR searchers made the executive decision to gear them up with dry clothes and food, abandon most of their gear on-site, and hike them as quickly as possible to the waiting snowmobiles and snocat approximately 2 miles away. At approximately 6am all nine snowshoers were transported out to the Cold Stream trailhead and handed over to the Placer County Sherriff in Truckee. Despite mild to moderate hypothermia and one case of badly frost bitten feet, all nine snowshoers survived the arduous trip from their snow pits to the Best Western Hotel in Truckee. Just a few days ago, TNSAR contacted the frost bitten victim and can happily report that she is doing well, healing and recuperating back in the Bay Area.
12-28-10…at approximately 1:30pm a 24 year old snowboarder dropped off the back side of the Alpine Meadows ski resort in one of the worst storms (so far) of the 2010-2011 winter season. At approximately 4pm her friends reported her missing; the steady snowfall had increased significantly and the ridge top winds were near 100mph. By nightfall the snowfall continued and the winds topped 120mph. Eleven TNSAR skiers and 2 snowmobiles responded to the first of at least four callouts. By the time the deceased victim was located, two days and two nights later, no fewer than 18 TNSAR skiers, 2 snowmobiles, and 5 operational team members had responded to this one incident. According to most all of the skiers who responded that first night, this was one of the most difficult searches ever implemented by TNSAR. The weather was horrendous. The avalanche danger was horrendous. There was no hope for helicopter support. And the snow continued to fall. By the second night the ground search was actually suspended because the conditions were deemed too dangerous to continue. Late that second night the weather began to clear, the temperature plummeted to near zero degrees F, and National Guard Black Hawk helicopters were deployed to search the area with state of the art night vision technology. Despite their continuous efforts there was no sign of the missing woman. Early on the following morning, 8 more TNSAR skiers and a gaggle of mutual support snowshoers were transported to the crest to continue the search. The temperature was 3 degrees F when the skiers began to search and within a half hour the missing snowboarder was located on Estelle Ridge, approximately 9 tenths of a mile from the top of Summit Chair lift where she was last seen. It was a tragic end to a valiant and tireless search effort. Later that day back at the Command Post, the surviving family members filed out of the Ski Patrol building and shook hands with those of us standing in the hallway. Several of them looked up from their shuffling feet and thanked us with swollen and tear filled eyes. It was very obvious that they were quite sincere with their thanks. We gave them all that we could, probably even more than we thought we could. And in the end it wasn’t enough to produce their loved one, but it was enough to provide some sense of closure to a very painful moment in their personal histories. We should all be very, very proud of our collective efforts.
12-31-10…sometime during the afternoon of a pleasant New Years Eve day, two young snowboarders dropped off the backside of the Lincoln chairlift at the Sugarbowl Ski Resort. Unbeknownst to them, the short but well travelled out-of-bounds route typically ends with a sharp left turn which brings skiers and boarders back in-bounds at Roller Pass near the top of the Judah chairlift. The two young boarders missed the left turn and continued right, down, down, down, into the Cold Creek drainage of Cold Stream Canyon. Finally realizing their mistake, the boys gathered up a bunch of tree limbs, called 911, and sat down in a clearing to wait for rescue. Five TNSAR skiers, 4 snowmobiles and a snocat responded to this final call of the 2010 year. An hour or so later the skiers rendezvoused with the wayward snowboarders, strapped snowshoes to their boots, and hiked them down to the 4 waiting snowmobiles. All searchers and the missing boarders were back to the Cold Stream trailhead before the midnight hour.
Between the beeps…and throughout the week between the Christmas search and the New Years Eve search the TNSAR pager beeped, beeped, beeped, somewhat incessantly. One afternoon several of our members went out on a limb, literally, for a lost dog in a creek. Another evening our snowmobile team raced out to Northstar for two out-of-bounds snowboarders. They somehow managed to get themselves extricated from the powder and flagged down a passing automobile on Highway 89. At one point, as I napped and tried to catch up on some much overdue sleep, I heard the beeping pager and jumped out of bed in a mad rush for my search pack and gear only to realize that the beeping was the microwave signaling that my daughter’s popcorn was done. When I finally fell back asleep I had this awful nightmare that I was a lift maintenance worker in Russia. Now that's cold! It was a crazy, crazy week. Now the high pressure has moved over Northern California. It is time to bandage the blisters, wash the long underwear (please, don’t wait on this point), dry the gear and get ready to do it all over again. Groundhog day TNSAR style.
There’s a new Sherriff in Town…a new Captain actually. TNSAR welcomes Placer County’s new Captain Jeff Ausnow to the Tahoe Basin. Captain Ausnow will be directing SAR operations out of the Burton Creek Substation. For the last several years, SAR operations have been directed from Auburn. Hopefully with this new, more centralized location TNSAR can improve our response time to callouts and reduce ever-frustrating wasted time waiting for direction from afar. If you see Captain Ausnow introduce yourself and welcome him to the Basin.
It’s Never Too Late….to have a happy childhood OR to improve your SAR skills. The TNSAR training crew will soon be offering a Level II Avalanche course for all Team members who have completed a Level I course. Keep an eye on the training tab on the TNSAR website for more details. Yes, practice makes perfect.
See ya at the bus stop.