Category Archives: Adventurer

Hiking with kids: Olivine Tide Pools, Maui


The Olivine Tide Pools offer great (if remote) little hike with beautiful tide pools embedded in a craggy lava shelf. The pools were named after a semiprecious gem found lodged throughout the lava and sandstone cliffs. They range in size from serving bowls to swimming pools. The color of several of these has a brilliant green cast in the right light- a beautiful contrast to the turquoise and indigo blues of the nearby waves and surging whitecaps.

Olivene Tide Pools, Maui
A larger tide pool glows green against a bright blue sea.

 

These luminous green Tide Pools come complete with intertidal residents including fish, miniature hermit crabs, periwinkle snails and a crew of cantankerous crabs. A small, but enthusiastic blowhole may be active if you are lucky enough to come at the right time.

Olivene Tide Pools, Maui
Luminous green tide pool warming jn the midday sun…

TEACHING POINTS:

Teaching your little ones (and yourself) to be awake to your environment can bring up all sorts of interesting questions… here are the answers to just a few.

1. Why do the larger pools have more life than the smaller? Because Hawaii has such a warm sunny climate, the smaller pools tend to get overheated and not have as extensive and varied life as the larger ones. Also, the larger pools can store a greater amount of resources to support life. The location and size of the tide pool in the intertidal zone will greatly affect who can and will choose to live there- such a frequently changing environment requires hardy species!

Here’s a link to a pdf of many of the local Hawaiian residents.

2. How does a blowhole work?

How does a Blowhole work?
How does a Blowhole work?

According to Wikipedia:  “In geology, a blowhole is formed as sea caves grow landwards and upwards into vertical shafts and expose themselves towards the surface, which can result in blasts of water from the top of the blowhole[1] if the geometry of the cave and blowhole and state of the weather are appropriate.”

3. How does new (fresh) water get into the pools? What happens when a pool is not refreshed often?

These pools are submerged by the sea at high tides and during big storms, and can even receive spray from larger waves. If a pool is not refreshed as often (due to location further away from the water, it can stagnate, with higher bacteria, lower oxygen in the water and far less renewal of nutrients, any residents of this pool may die or be stunted in their growth.

See what other things you notice about the pools and their natural patterns- can your little ones come up with a hypothesis why or how something occurs?

HIKING TIPS: 

1. Safety First. The ocean waves crashing into the lava cliffs housing the pools are unsafe. Don’t try to swim in the area (other than in the larger calm tide pools) and don’t stand too near the edge. Some of the rock cliffs nearby can be unstable. Keep younger and less sure- footed little ones nearby.

2. Solitude seekers should plan ahead. A generous roadside pullout for parking, a common desire to stretch legs midway along the coastal drive, and the relatively short hike down the steep jagged lava encrusted terrain encourages a larger number of visitors. If you are looking for solitude, either go early in the morning or arrive late.

3. Consider Tidal Timing. Come at the right time (NOT during the peak of high or low tide) to experience a cool (if smaller) blowhole that never fails to fascinate young ones.
4. Bring a swimsuit! On weekends you will likely meet other people there, quite a few choosing to take a cool dip in the largest pool.


Olivene Tide Pools, Maui
Waves crash and churn against a jagged volcanic shelf.

 

5. Snorkel Gear: Although the water can be a bit cloudy, this is a great location for snorkel gear or goggles will allow you to get a better view of the local pool residents.

6. Surefootedness is a plus due to the steep, uneven and sometimes jagged terrain. Good shoes are a plus, although Keen/Teva type shoes are passable with careful foot placement. Flip flops (slippers) not recommended.

7. Get to know the locals: Do your research on intertidal zones and the local Hawaiian residents.  If you have kids (and even if you don’t) taking the time before you head out to get to know the various tide pool species can turn “oh, look, another fish” into an exciting treasure hunt for familiar friends.

8. Guard your stuff! As always at trailheads, please don’t leave visible valuables in the car.

Old Friends in New Places

 

It was a great morning. Fluffy omelets, multiple refills of rich dark coffee, and a chance to reconnect with old friends under tropical skies. I’d been on the road for the last few months before finally landing in Maui. Meeting a couple of other displaced mountain dwellers for breakfast got me thinking about the oddly comforting experience of meeting old friends in new places. I’d been feeling cast adrift lately and it felt good to find an anchor, a familiar connection to the known, in a place of so many unknowns.

Breakfast was over, and I felt sad to leave my friends. But it was time to head out onto the trail… Makawao Forest Reserve on the east face of the volcano. Climbing ever higher on an unvarying slope, a tunnel of indecipherable tropical greenery looms around me… It’s beautiful, but it all seems so hard to connect with, so alien.

Vibrant red mud squooshes out from underneath my soles as I plod ever upward, somewhat unsure if I want to continue. Before I can turn around, the canopy opens up above me, the slope evens out slightly and a meadow appears out of nowhere. At my feet a small plant with serrated bright green leaves catches my eye. Suddenly, I realize that I am looking at an old friend… Blackberries! There’s a whole ripe hedge here!

After a quick flash of warm recognition, (and wolfing down quite a few berries) I start to look around me and realize that a decent percentage of the incomprehensible ‘wall of green’ I had been wandering through are really just old friends…

Fiddlehead ferns, taller than any we have in the high country, dominate the meadow, just unfurling their broad spans from tightly curled bundles on the tops of stalks. Pines tower on the edges of the clearing (planted on Maui to serve as ship’s masts), Blueberry’s close cousin the Nene berry is sprouting up all around, and the sharp sweet smell of eucalyptus leaves rises from the forest floor. With a sudden grin of renewed confidence I have all the energy I need continue my exploration. The recognition of familiar plant friends has somehow made the challenge of connecting with new ones far less daunting.
Looking back, I have to laugh at myself- I realize that I had been given the same lesson in two different ways.

Feeling so adrift, I had forgotten that there is always a seed of the familiar in everything -if we care to look past the obvious differences.

Reaching out and finding a way to connect with your old friends, the knowns, the commonalities, helps you create a bridge to the unknown. Looking for ways to connect with “old friends” (human, plant, or informational, etc) can help you find a foothold in new territory, make things more comprehensible and give you the confidence to explore an entirely new world. This works not only when traveling or on trail, but applies in just about every disorientingly new experience we have in life.

5 ways to Keep Your Family Safe on High Country Winter Hikes

As we finally enjoy the snow we so rightly deserve it’s a good time to remember a few practical tips to keep us safe in this all beautiful white stuff!

Hopefully you’ve already figured out that taking a winter hike in the high country takes a bit more planning than a summer day hike, especially if you have little ones in tow. You already know to bring the right gear and check your weather forecasts – so I won’t belabor those points. (Not sure? Check past articles.) 

Here’s a couple tips about the worst winter offenders to help keep you and your little loved ones safe: 

1. Melt/Freeze. Teach your little ones the relationship between snow and ice and how to recognize changes that can signal danger. Just because you crossed that slope in the bright midday sun does not mean that it will be traversable in the late afternoon. The day(sun)/night(shade) melt/freeze cycle can turn friendly white powder into something slick and deadly in a matter of hours. As soon as that snow exits direct sun, watch out!  That also goes for crossing from open to tree covered trail- any area of shade is a potential skating rink in the right conditions!

Pause early in your hike to have your little ones test the tactile difference between shaded snow and sun illuminated slush to help drive the point home.

2. Stay awake and aware. “A little bit of ice” is nothing to scoff at – it becomes especially dangerous on the steep slopes of the high country, where an ice chute can turn you into a human pinball, and not in a good way.

Being alarmist about this (or any) risk can intimidate kids about winter hiking- instead of attempting to scare, I prefer to teach awareness and involve them actively in the process of taking care of our little hiking “tribe”: “This can be dangerous, so I’d like to ask you to help me look out for it as a team”. Involving them in the responsibility of taking care of the group does a lot to develop skills that they can use in later solo adventures.

3. Choose your trails wisely! Don’t assume that lovely summer hikes are going to be just as much of a pleasure in the winter… Some trails are seasonal for a reason! Just because you have hiked it a thousand times (in the summer) does not mean it is a safe trail in the winter! Consider level of exposure to the sun, recent weather conditions and elevation (amongst many other things) in making your choice of trail! 

4. Turn back if you encounter conditions beyond your experience. And keep a close tab on the energy levels, enthusiasm, gear and overall condition of any little ones in tow.

It’s not worth it to push it- most of the time you will probably squeak by, but don’t let that make you get cavalier- when the time comes, the cost can be far too high.  I remember one Ranger Patrol on Ramona Trail- an ‘easy’ hike made deceptively dangerous by a river of ice that had formed on the trail! If you and your “tribe” don’t have the experience or get to safely traverse the whole range of trail conditions, and double your efforts to get back home- get your butt out of there!

5. Navigation Skills. fresh snow leaves a lovely white blanket across the land… Obscuring  every single detail of the trail that once seemed so familiar. Don’t just head out on a wing and a prayer (“I’m a local- I don’t need a map!”). Make sure and bring a Topo map and the navigation skills to appropriately use it. (It never hurts to plan in navigational experiences for your little ones as well.) And don’t just assume that you can always just track your self back – new snowfall can cover up your shoe prints in a matter of minutes!

Now that I’ve been a Scrooge about all your wonderful winter plans, I want to encourage you to get out there and enjoy with your tribe- just do so with forethought and safety! Happy hiking! 

 

Bring Him Home.

  It’s Friday afternoon. I hear the helicopter circling over my house in Fern Valley. As I reflexively check my phone for a Rescue Call out text, it dings and vibrates with 2 back to back texts. Lee and Les. ” Heads up” from both of them. I sigh, “Probably another climbing accident” I say to my empty kitchen. With the warm weather Tahquitz  rock is tempting a lot more people up into cool crisp air and stunning views.

Lee swings by to pick me up on his way to Humber Park. The news when we get there is not good. CDF has already lowered in an EMT who has confirmed it’s a fatality. It takes a while before we can get any more info. When we do, the day suddenly takes a turn for the worse. 

“Lucas… ” My face falls when I hear the name. A sharp breath in of recognition. A sinking twisting pain. oh. no. An uncomfortable silence as we all take a moment to absorb the news.  It’s one of our own, an experienced climber, a young Idyllwild local with a bright soul and a smile for everybody. 
After a long, drawn out wait for the coroner, we finally get the go ahead for a helicopter recovery hoist. It’s decided that Craig Wills and I will be sent in with a litter to package him up and bring him back. Les Walker, one of the best climbers on our team and a good buddy of Lucas takes me to the side and adds to my technical gear a few  “just in case items” help smooth the recovery of his dear friend. We push back our emotions, shoving them, struggling, down deep where they won’t get in the way- there will be time for tears later.

As we make the short drive down to Keenwild Helitack Lee casts a serious look my way. “Are you good to go on this?”. Lee’s sure of my technical skills, what he’s asking is if I want to emotionally take on the packaging of someone I know. I’ve been on several recoveries of strangers.This one is different. 

I sit and think for a second gazing into the distance . Dark clouds are gathering on the horizon, weather is coming in. Someone needs to do this, and soon. I have the skills and Lucas needs to come home.  “Yes. Yes, I’m good.”

I’ll be hoisting first in order to assess the situation and set up anchors for Craig if needed. I take the camera from coroner. After a quick briefing on the shots they will need me to document, I cross the helipad toward Star-9.

Our Pilot Kevin Boss and TFO (Technical Flight Officer) Manny greet us with a handshake and nod. A short and sweet  briefing, then I climb into the helicopter behind Craig. He takes the seat at the far end and immediately clips into the seatbelt. I swing around so I’m seated next to Manny, legs hanging out the edge of the helicopter. With a quick nod and a smile he clips me in to the hoist for safety. We check each others’ carabiners to make sure they are properly secured and locked. 

Within moments the bird lifts into the air and swings smoothly around to face North. Sitting on the edge of the deck, I have a perfect view of our mountain town gliding by below me. As we draw closer a calm focus washes over me. It’s go time. 

Kevin pulls the helicopter into a hover near the face of the rock. Manny makes eye contact with me and points downward. Hundreds of feet below I can make out the forms of four CDF crewmen bunched on a ledge. Just above is the fall zone and our subject. 

I check my harness again, rise to a stand with my feet pressed firmly on the skid. Manny takes my hand and places it on the Carabiner handle on his chest. I pivot around to face him and give him a nod. He nods back and starts carefully lowering me. 

Within a moment I’m over the edge into the open air. Slowly spinning I can see the small ledge spread out far below me. 

  
It’s surreal how beautiful the surroundings are. The sheer granite face of Tahquitz Rock is stained in dark streaks with thousands of years of rain flow. The rock is so massive it dwarfs you into insignificance. I glance at Suicide Rock looming across the valley, the gulf filled with deep green pine from wall to wall. Wind gusts swell in waves, then subside, bringing the dark clouds closer with every minute. 

I glance back down at the approaching ledge, readying myself to land upright and secure an anchor as quickly as possible. 

Suddenly I’m jerked to a stop. 

The ledge pulls sharply away as I pendulum, swinging backwards wildly as Kevin expertly peels the bird away from the face of Tahquitz. A sudden change in the wind has put the helicopter at risk of crashing into the rock. 

The air crew reels me back in. As Manny pulls me back into the helicopter I give him a thumbs up:  I’m good to go for another round. He swings his microphone up from his face to yell in my ear. “The wind’s too rough right now to get so close. We’re going to have to lower you in below the ledge. You’ll have to climb up.” I give him another thumbs up. 

Kevin edges the bird in again. I head out the door and Manny lowers me into the cold buffeting of the rotor wash. The trip down is short.  Before I know it my hand snags onto an outcropping about 40 ft below the ledge. I take time to secure a grip on the rough surface before I unclip from the hoist. 

Star-9 pulls away from the rock and circles the valley once before pulling into a closer hover. Kevin has managed to compensate for the roughening wind and maintain a stable position directly over the target ledge. Mountain flying is one of the most unpredictable and dangerous forms of piloting and Kevin is one of the best there is. Craig’s form appears at the door and swings down into the open air.  As he lowers, I begin to climb.

Once we are both on the ledge we briefly greet the CDF crew. With darker clouds gathering in the valley just below us, Star-9 wastes no time in lowering the litter. It pendulums its way to us. I manage to snag an edge and bring it in to the widest part of the ledge before unclipping it. Manny’s voice over the radio, “Those clouds are moving in. We’ll be back in got 20 minutes”. Star-9 heads back to Keenwild to conserve fuel. 

I climb alone up to site of the accident to take pictures of the subject for the coroner. Once I finish, Craig and the CDF crew make their way up with our packs. We work to quickly, yet carefully package our subject into the waiting litter. I pull the part of my mind that recognizes him back and shove it in a dark corner. Deal with it later. I’m focused on what needs to be done. Making sure that he has all of his gear, picking up his broken sunglasses and placing them gently by his side in the bagl. 

The helicopter is already hovering as we finish the last details of packaging. One last zip. I close my eyes for a second and breathe deep. The bag is closed, buckles locked, ready to go. 

Craig radios in to the bird “Ready to hoist”. Manny’s on it right away. The hoist swings precariously at the edge of our reach, then swings right in the sweet spot. Craig grabs it, the CDF crew holds up the spider and I clip it in. An exaggerated hand signal and the litter swings up and away with our subject. As it reaches the bird I pull the tag line and the helicopter swings to the South.  

I breath out a heavy sigh of deep relief. Lucas is going home. 

Within minutes Star-9 is back for us. A quick set of hoists and we’re safe back in the arms of the Aviation Unit. As we fly away I look out into the darkening pine covered valleys and say a quiet prayer in memory of Lucas. 

High Country Helicopter Rescue

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Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t a dark and stormy night.

The sun shone warm on my back, a light breeze whispered through the pines. Little chickadees sang of spring. All in all, it was a beautiful early spring afternoon.

In the middle of this Disney-esque day, my phone vibrates against my leg.

It’s my partner, Lee calling; “Want a helicopter ride?” is his greeting. “There’s a hiker, possibly in full arrest in the High Country. Star-9 needs a team ready to go immediately.”

My prep has an extra edge to it. I pull my uniform on, quickly check my backpack for the essentials, head out the door and jump into Lee’s waiting truck. We’re on our way in a handful of minutes towards Keenwild helipad. On the way we get the news that Donny and Les will be backing us up as the ground team hiking into the high country, with the rest of the team on standby to head in if we need assistance.

The A-Star helicopter touches down as we arrive. Technical Flight Officer Eric Hannum leans out and waves us in. He briefs us as Pilot Mike Calhoun speeds us towards the High Country. “Our subject’s name is Donna. She is a 70 yr old woman, blond hair, blue eyes, white jacket, black pants. She was hiking with her husband near Laws Junction when she experienced “Heart attack symptoms”, Husband hiked several miles back to Notch 5 in the State Park before he could call for help.” Eric relates that the husband reported a “large opening” in the trees nearby that he thinks should be perfect for a helicopter landing. Hmmm… we’ll see.

Star-9 makes a series of wide circles above the trail near Laws for what seems like eternity- but is in reality only a few minutes. We peer down trying to somehow pick up any slight movement, any change in color. Where is she?? It doesn’t help that our subject is wearing black and white against a background of patchy half melted snow, blackened remains of trees left over from the Mountain fire and dark mountain soil.

As the minutes tick by, I start to doubt the location information we’ve been given. The husband had to have hiked out along the Hidden Divide trail to get back to Notch 5 from Laws… And it could be that they never made it all the way down to the actual junction, especially if they had to go through the burn area to get there…

I key my mic: “Hey guys, why don’t we locate the upper end of the Hidden Divide trail and backtrack?”

Mike swings the helicopter to the North and we start to scour the steep slope for the remains of the trail. Bingo! Within 2 minutes of changing our strategy, we’ve located the subject. Even better, she is obviously still responsive and no longer alone. 2 other hikers have joined her to help in her time of need.

Unfortunately what seemed like a “large opening” in the tree cover to the husband is far too small and dangerous to land a helicopter in. Pilot Mike thinks quickly and flys back to the closest large clearing to land and insert us. Once on the ground we grab a screamer suit to carry with us. We’re pretty sure this will end up being a hoist situation and we want to be prepared to get our subject safely in the air as soon as possible. The afternoon sun is fading into a warm alpenglow, the evening wind is starting to kick in and the already crisp temperature is starting to drop. We had best get moving before our window of opportunity closes. I don’t know if our subject could survive a night out here, and we don’t intend to find out.

The helicopter flies out to convert to their hoisting setup as we hike at double time down through the brisk mountain air towards our subject’s location.

Within minutes we see her ahead of us, sitting on a rock flanked by her caretakers. It’s a relief to see her responsive and in far better condition than we had right to expect from the original call-out.

Lee and I quickly introduce ourselves to our subject and her helpers. Our subject greets us with shy sweet smile, bright blue eyes and a friendly, soft spoken voice. Instead of meeting her situation with panic she is calm, although obviously worried. I begin my medical examination as Lee heads down the trail to search the nearby forest for a safe and close hoisting location.

I notice right away that she is trembling, I’m not sure yet if it is due to the cold or something more serious. I ask her questions to get her talking and help me assess her mental state. I check her pupillary response, then vitals. Her pulse is rapid, but not strong. Breathing is somewhat labored, and slightly fast. She has recently eaten and had water, already taken aspirin, and reports no history of cvd or any other medical conditions or medications. So far, so good.

Even as I lead the conversation to what happened, I’m closely watching my subject, Always assessing her, watching for any clues to her condition or information that will need to be passed on. She is alert and aware of what has happened to her, has a good memory of the situation and can explain it well.

She describes hiking down the trail to clearing, having lunch with her husband. She had a slight headache, and took a nap. She woke to extreme shortness of breath and muscular weakness. She was unable to hike at all, and found it hard to even walk a few feet. They quickly decided that he would run for help.

One of the hikers has kindly shared her jacket with Donna. Despite this, she is still shivering. As soon as I’ve made sure there is no immediate threat to her life, I break open my pack, pulling out a down jacket, a thick wool beanie and warm wool gloves. Once she is warmer, we will be better able to rule out the source of her trembling.

Since we are out this far in the Wilderness, our best bet is to get her out as quickly as possible. Unless an immediate emergency comes up, our priority is to prep her for transport, take care of her immediate physical needs and get a pattern of vitals established so I have some trends to hand off to the Hospital. Any information I can gather at this stage may play a key role in saving her life if her condition suddenly worsens.

Lee arrives back from his scouting trip. “There’s a good hoist location just a 2 minute walk to the West.” His arm points down the slightly inclined slope. Good, I think. It’s a short, clear walk downhill. It should be manageable if we take it easy. Donna’s heart and respiratory rates have slowed down a bit and her breathing seems much less labored.

I glance to the sky. The sun is hanging low in the sky. We need to get her out of here while we can still easily do so. I’d much rather hoist while we still have light to do so safely.

Donna is a real trooper and makes the trek with no complaint. Time to get her ready for the hoist. Lee holds up the screamer suit for her to put her arms through as I strap her in and join the rings with a locking carabiner, securing her into her “cradle”. Lee verbally walks her through the steps of the process.

Lee keys his radio: “Star-9, we are ready for hoist.”

The helicopter approaches, the rapid beat of it’s rotor blades echoing up and through the wide ravine. The sudden gale throws up ash from the recent fire, pelting my face with bits of debris. I turn to shelter Donna from the onslaught as Lee reaches out for the rapidly descending hoist hook. The air crew (now a new shift: pilot Kevin Boss, TFO Manny Romero) manages to swing the hook right into Lee’s hand! I clip Donna into the hook, double check that the system is securely closed and wave my hand upward and out from my helmet to signal the TFO to lift.

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The wind from the chopper is brutally cold, and my hands have become painfully stiff from just a couple minutes of exposure. I’m going to need all th dexterity I can manage to clip myself into the hoist, so this could be a problem. I jam my hands deep into my jacket pockets to warm them up. Another minute and I’m gazing up expectantly, positioning myself, reaching for the hoist, clipping in… Suddenly I’m flying straight up. As I reach the helicopter, I walk my hands on the struts to avoid bumping my head. The TFO gives me a nod and a smile and helps me into the the seat next to Donna. Our unwieldy packs come up next, spinning in the wild wind currents.

It takes far longer for Lee to come up. As the minutes tick by, I start to get worried. Is something wrong? Finally I see Lee’s head emerge over the edge of the deck. He looks sick. He has completed the most hoist rescues ever on the team, but I’ve never seen him like this. The TFO clears up the mystery “The wind spun him like a top on the way up- I’ve never seen anything like it!”

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There’s not enough room in the small cabin for all of us and the enormous packs, so Lee and the TFO sit perched on the outside of the copter, safely clipped in, but exposed to the bitingly cold wind as we fly towards the desert.

As we beeline towards our destination the scenery is majestic enough to take your breath away- craggy cliffs, the sharp relief of impenetrable ravines and razor ridge lines flying by almost to fast to absorb. Donna is fascinated- it’s a real joy to see the worry leave her face, replaced by wonder… “What an adventure!”
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We arrive at the transfer point and pass our subject off the the waiting EMTs. I give them a briefing on her vitals and current condition, shake her eagerly waiting husband’s hand, give her a big hug and wish her well.

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Over Before You Know It

After a long hard work week, it was finally time for a night out. Dinner down in the desert had been great. It was a long winding back up the mountain, but it was worth it. An hour later I could still taste the lingering flavor of Duck confit with chanterelles in my mouth as we pulled with a gravelly crunch into the driveway. Now, all I was looking forward to was a hot bath and warm bed.

I had just unclipped my seatbelt when a new text chimed out.

I look down at my phone, eyes widening: “We have a mission!”

Two lost hikers at Marion Mountain. Dang, this could be a big one! Marian Mountain is one of the steepest trails in the area. It is notorious for sending people down it’s offshoots into deep, dark, dangerous canyons. Over the years we’ve rescued many people from its grasp, and it’s usually been a doozy of a mission. We’d better prep for an overnighter for sure.

Instead of jumping in the bath, I head directly for the rescue room. In a matter of minutes I pull on my uniform, double check my gear and backpack, and am ready to head out. I grab a extra radio for the deputy and I’m out the door.

I heave my backpack in the bed of the truck and hop in. My Partner Lee speeds up the 243 towards the mission base location marked by a google pin drop. On the way we get the news that our teammates Cameron Dickinson and Kevin Kern are on their way here. Good. It’s always a good idea to have backup on a Marion Mountain mission.

Turning off the main highway we wind our way along the pockmarked and potholed asphalt back towards the Marion Mountain trailhead. As we approach we can see the Sheriff’s lights ahead, red and blue flashes piercing the pitch black, illuminating the pines in an eerie dance of color.

Thank Goodness for Cell Service
Dispatch is on the radio with the deputy. One of the subjects has managed to get weak cell-service and is on the phone describing their location. The deputy slowly repeats the conversation to us. “They’re at a campground with water towers nearby”. Lee’s eyes light up immediately “I know where they are!”

“Sound the siren!” Lee suggests to the deputy. A loud whoop comes from the car. A couple of seconds later, confirmation from dispatch: The subjects have heard the siren. Perfect! Lee and I grin at each other. We won’t even need our backpacks for this one. He turns to me: “They’re at the old campground” that makes sense- it’s still closed this early in the season. They could’ve gotten sidetracked on their way back down, found an old campsite and decided to stick it out somewhere that seems at least somewhat civilized.

A 15 Minute Rescue
We ask the deputy to wait. “This won’t take long”. A quick eight minute march up a steep hillside covered in slippery pine duff, and we see the glow of a fire ahead illuminating up the trees in a warm circle of light. “Hello!” We yell out as a greeting. Excited yells greet us back.

As we approach I see two people huddled near the inviting blaze of a fire ring. Our subjects are ecstatic to see us. A quick set of introductions goes around before we get to the meat of the interview.

Ron and Diana started out separately that day. She was part of a hiking meetup group and he was travelling on his own near the group. The Meetup group had asked people to pick a hiking buddy. Through an understandable mixup Diana had chosen Ron as her partner and only realized much later that he was not part of the group.

Still, they had a great hike up to the peak but ended up making it back down in the fading twilight. They had both made some of the classic mistakes that tend to get hikers in trouble. Neither one had counted on staying out so late. They had underestimated the length of he hike, had not brought extra provisions, not familiarized themselves with the trailhead, and they had no source of light between them.

In the fading light at the end of the hike they got off the trail, but managed to make it back down. Unfortunately the simple map they had showed only the trails without the topography. (One more reason to learn to read a topo map and always bring your own!) Once off trail, they had no way to find the location of their cars. The darkness made everything unfamiliar and they weren’t even sure they were in the right area on the mountain.

“I had figured our car was over that way”, Ron said pointing North in the direction of Dark Canyon. “But she insisted we stay put”.

“I’m glad you did.” If they had headed off that way they would be lost in the middle of a tangle of deep dark ravines and thick brush right now. No cell service there! Our job would’ve gotten a whole heck of a lot harder. An amazingly simple search of several minutes would have morphed into long hours or even days, with a large potential of our subjects becoming injured, hypothermic and/or severely dehydrated.

Luckily for us all, they decided to hunker down instead. Diana had brought some matches for the fire and they both had jackets which helped keep them warm.

Heading Home
“Well, let’s get you back”. Lee puts out the fire. I stamp out the last embers with my heavy leather boots. We each hand out one of our many spare headlamps for the subjects to use. As we walk back, I review a few of the lessons of the night. Our new friends readily confirm they will not be heading out without their full set of ten essentials again, especially their not without headlamps and a good map! A short hike down the slope and we hit the pockmarked road leading to their cars.

In a couple minutes, we see flashing lights illuminating the road ahead. Time to hand them off to the deputy.

They’ll have a exciting story for friends and family. They were lucky- they had all the ingredients for things to go horribly wrong, but got a brief adventure and a good lesson instead.

 

Hiking Gear: Time to Retire?

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It’s supported you loyally throughout the years, but bringing worn out gear into the backcountry can do you far more harm than good. Here’s a quick guide of when to replace key gear.

BOOTS:
Your boots should be allowed to go hike the great trail in the sky when:

-Your soles wear thin and smooth. It’s critical that your boots have excellent traction. From creek crossings to that granite slab traverse, when you’re on slippery or wet surfaces you need a strong grip if you don’t want to risk life and limb with every step.

-Your boot develops an uncomfortable fold or kink that hurts your foot and shortens your hike. Pain is no fun and can distract you into making bad decisions that could affect the safety of your hike, or at the very least make it miserable.

-Your boot’s upper delaminates or the threading starts sticking out of the seams. Either of these can compromise the weatherproofing of your old friend. This can turn from annoying to downright dangerous in the winter. Nothing will lead to frostbite faster than a set of poor sealing shoes in cold wet conditions.

PACK
Packs can be the longest lived of your gear. Kind of like Frankenstein’s monster, most worn out components like ripped seams, torn up shoulder straps, and hip-belts can be repaired or replaced. Unfortunately, sturdy old models tend to weigh in on the heavier side and lack many useful newer options. Upgrading your pack to a lighter, more convenient version can help better distribute your load and make your hikes a heck of a lot more enjoyable.

TENT
Your trusty old tent has weathered blown seams, broken zippers and shattered poles with simple repairs and replacements, but use caution when deciding to milk that last bit of life out of your shelter. Eventually even the walls will degrade, and a torrential downpour in the backcountry is a dangerous place to discover that your old tent leaks like a sieve. Test your tent every season with a simulated extended downpour to make sure it can truly weather the storm.

SLEEPING BAG
Even with proper care, your sleeping bag fill will eventually lose its ability to keep your toes toasty warm. Synthetic fills can last you five (or more) years with good care, and down may survive up to ten. Note: improper laundering, or storing your bag compressed can significantly shorten this number. It’s time for a new bag when the old one looks deflated, has flat spots, or just no longer keeps you warm.

HEADLAMP
Cheaper headlamps will need to be replaced more often, as buttons fail, controls get twitchy and the connections to the batteries wear out. Upgrade to a good quality headlamp (with extra batteries). You can keep an older model around to avoid black widows on trips into the storage space, but don’t make the mistake of heading miles into the backcountry with an unreliable light strapped to your noggin.

It’s often hard to give up something that has done a good job for you over the years. Nostalgia has its place – so reward your old gear’s loyalty by giving it a place of honor on a display shelf, but don’t bring it out onto the trail.

Helicopters, Hoists & Breakfast, Oh my!

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The call comes in at 3:30 AM. It’s my partner Lee. “They need a helicopter hoist team for a lost hiker on Skyline”. My bed is warm and my fuzzy flannel sheets are so comfy… But this is more important than a few hours sleep! “Count me in”, I slur with sleep still in my voice.

Shaking my head to clear it, I throw the warm covers back, roll out of bed and head straight for my gear closet. Perfect! My Go-Pack is still full from the last mission. I dig around inside – ticking off my mental checklist. Good, everything is accounted for. I refill my Nalgene, pull on my pants and shrug into my fluorescent orange uniform shirt.

Within 15 minutes I’m already on the way to pick up Lee. Another speedy half an hour drive down the mountain puts us in the parking lot at RSO Aviation. One more cross check of gear and we head straight into the hanger.

Pilot Chad Marlett and TFO Manny Romero are on tonight. The Aviation crew are all amazing guys and exceptional at what they do – we really enjoy working with them and readily trust them with our lives.

Following protocol we do a brief review of the Screamer suit and rescue gear, then load our packs and ourselves into the helicopter. I clip the seat belt together, strap on a headset and snug it down over my ears, bending the microphone down directly in front of my mouth.

“Good to go?” Lee and I give Manny a thumbs up and a verbal confirmation of “oh yeah!”. Manny confirms we are securely strapped in, then cranes his neck around out the door, scanning one last safety check of the environment as Chad preps for takeoff.

One minute we’re on the ground feeling the increasing thup……..thup…. thup ..thup.. thup.thup of the accelerating rotor, the next the ground swings eerily away beneath us , disappearing into the black.

We discuss the mission on our headsets as we watch the twinkling city lights cruise by beneath us. “Want to hear the transcript?” Manny briefly reviews the mission notes and original call text with us.

Our subject called 911 for help with a weak cell signal. He had been hiking all night and was now trapped off trail in the thick brush of the coastal mountain range, unable to hike any further. He was scratched up, dehydrated, exhausted, and utterly disoriented by his efforts. He described seeing red blinking lights on a nearby hill. The 911 operator told him to stay put and await further contact, but RSO has not been able to raise him again. He has likely run out of battery. As is often the case in emergencies, people don’t think to conserve their batteries until it is nearly too late.

The only “red blinking lights” in the area are a set of radio towers. A ping of the subject’s cell phone put his location at 2 miles Southeast of the towers, but it’s best not to put complete trust in these coordinates. Over the years we’ve learned that since they tend to ping to the nearest cell tower, they can sometimes be miles off.

Chad suggests we start in the vicinity of the towers. In the subject’s description he said he could see the flashing lights on a NEARBY hill. I agree. “That ping is too far south for him to see the lights clearly.” It’s generally best to trust a subject’s physical description over a set of cell coordinates. Hopefully our subject has followed instructions and hasn’t moved.

We reach the edge of the city lights and venture out and above the inky black mountain slopes. Manny hands back a pair of night vision goggles. As I raise them to my eyes the world below lights up with an eerie green brightness. Ridges and valleys jump out in a rough grainy contrast. I pass them over to Lee for a quick acclimatization.

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We start our search near the radio towers, cruising slowly in the air up and down each ridge and Canyon, eyes intently searching for something, anything that will signal us that our subject is here.

In addition to a spotlight, we also have a set of cameras that allow us to pick heat signatures and the night vision goggles which will starkly reveal anything more reflective/bright than the background of dense scrub brush.

Manny, Lee and I scan the landscape as Pilot Chad concentrates on the added difficulties of mountain flying. The steep ridges guide and magnify any wind into strong updrafts, and each time we cross a ridge he must slow down to compensate for the increased rpm of the blades. Even a slight breeze over this rugged terrain can increase the risk of our flight.

We know our subject is likely on top of a ridge, since he was able to see the radio towers. We fly for a while, scanning the ridgelines, seeing nothing but thick brush and short stumpy trees crammed in tightly along the hillside and steep slopes.

The goggles make everything much clearer, but nothing is jumping out at us. We’re starting to get discouraged… The Eastern sky is just starting to lighten, and now we’re racing against time to try and find him at night. Most people don’t realize that it’s easier for us to see most signals at night, Anything bright or reflective will instantly jump out at us. The contrast of even a small light or reflection stands out against the dull black of night far more than during the bright light of day. The pilots say that in the right conditions they can see the light from a cell phone 3 miles away.

Hunting as a child with my father, I learned to let my eyes go slightly unfocused to search the terrain for patterns and movement. When searching, focusing your eyes or your mind too hard on any one point can give you a myopic view and make you overlook whats right in front of you.

The guys are scouring the ground with their night vision goggles, and I am left with my naked eye. After what seems like an eternity, but is probably just another half hour, something on a ridgeline snags the edge of my eye.

“Wait. Go back. To the North. I saw something.” Chad swings the helicopter around. I verbally direct the beam of his spotlight to a spot on the ridgeline below us. There, silhouetted in the circle of light is our subject- a tiny dot with a white shirt jumping up-and-down wildly. Its nice to get confirmation on our decision- the cell ping was definitely off!

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“Alright!” I can hear the grin in Chad and Manny’s voices.

We examine the ridge nearby. It’s a jumble of high brush and short stunted trees, “there’s no place to land” reports chad. … and nowhere to easily hike in from. “We’ll have to hoist him out”.

We circle over him for a better position and Chad turns on the loudspeaker. “Wave your hands if you can understand us”. A few enthusiastic hand waves from the subject later, The flight crew gets confirmation that he can indeed hear us and will stay put as we fly away to reconfigure the helicopter for a hoist. The subject hunkers down under the shelter of the tall brush to wait as we fly away.

Chad beelines the helicopter to landing area at the base of the foothills, and the aircrew rapidly reconfigure the helicopter for the hoist.

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This takes time, by the time we are flying back through the canyons the first rays of the sun are hitting the mountain slopes. Since our subject looks like a heavy guy, It is decided that we will leave Lee on the hillside after we hoist the Subject and come back for him later. Chad sets the helicopter into a hover and Manny hoists Lee and then me down directly onto the hillside near our subject.

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Lee pulls the bright Red screamer suit out of his pack. It looks like a combination between a jacket and a diaper, designed to be simple to put on in an emergency and very secure. We help the subject strap himself in “put your arms through the holes like a jacket” I cinch the inner waist belt tight as Lee brings the straps together from each shoulder and between the subjects legs. He secures the front rings together with a locking carabiner at chest level.

After a quick but thorough briefing for the subject of what’s going to happen next and helicopter safety, we signal the TFO that we’re good to go.

In a great show of piloting Chad manages to put the hoist directly into my hand on the first try. I clip in, wave my hand in our exaggerated “lift me up” signal and enjoy the ride. Before you know it I’m at the skids and walking my hands upward to the TFO’s chest Carabiner. Into the helicopter, clip into the seatbelt, unclip the hoist and hand it to Manny. Soon thereafter the anxious face of the subject appears over the edge of the deck. He stares straight forward, clasping the cable tight, petrified by his first hoist and helicopter flight, but manages to follow all of our instructions perfectly.

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Within minutes we are back at the landing zone. Everything goes smoothly in the subject handoff to the deputies on scene and we head back for Lee. In a great mood, we fly back the hanger (and a much anticipated breakfast!) .

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Toasty Toes: Staying Warm While Hiking

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On the last few rescues there has been a very distinct chill in the air. One thing I’ve learned through hard experience is that the essence of staying safely warm in the winter wilderness is having the proper clothing layers and knowing how to use them effectively. Here’s some info to help keep you toasty while hiking this winter.

So why are some materials warmer than others?

It’s all in the air. Clothing helps hold “dead air” against your skin. This dead air is heated up by the body, providing a layer of warmth. The actual insulating value of your clothing is due to the thickness of dead air space it can hold. Your body is the true heat source, the clothing layers only serve to trap the heat and slow down your heat loss to the cold environment.

So what are the best ways to save this “dead air”?

1. Choose the right layers The key to staying toasty is by having a number of versatile layers of clothing to provide an appropriate amount of dead air space. Each layer should have unique properties to hold, protect and allow you to adjust your temperature as necessary.

-AVOID Cotton: During the winter cotton is downright deadly as it loses all its dead air when wet and thus its insulating properties. Wet cotton is worse than dry bare skin and will rapidly suck the warmth from your body.

-Polypro or other Synthetic base layer: Keep your body in a snug (not tight) synthetic layer designed to wick moisture AWAY from your skin. Synthetic fibers like polypropylene don’t hold water, so your sweat is driven outward beyond the synthetic layer and away from your skin. This prevents evaporative cooling and creates a thin protective layer of warm air.

Wear Wool: Wool’s insulating ability comes from the elastic, wavy crimp in its shape that traps air between fibers. Depending on texture and thickness, as much as 60-80% of wool cloth can be air! Because the water “disappears” into these fiber spaces, wool can absorb a large amount of moisture while still keeping enough dead air space to keep you warm. (Note: although not as versatile, fleece is an acceptable option as well).

Down jacket: Lightweight and highly compressible, down feathers are very efficient insulators. They provide excellent dead air space for very little weight. Unfortunately, if the feathers get wet they clump, lose dead air space and all their insulating power. Keep your down safely wrapped in a waterproof bag until you need it.

Wind and waterproof outer shell – it is essential to have an outer layer that is wind and waterproof while still having the ability to ventilate and allow excess heat and sweat to escape. Gore-tex and other similar fabrics are good options. Having underarm (pit) zippers on jackets greatly increases your ability to ventilate.

Hand gear: bring mittens!
Ever notice your hands feel colder after putting on a thin pair of gloves? It’s physics baby! When a thin layer of insulation is wrapped around a small diameter curved surface (finger), it increases the surface area and can actually increase heat loss until a thickness of about 1/4″. Good motivation to bring backup mittens (which get around this problem by combining finger pockets) for extra cold conditions.

Headgear– hats are essential in winter travel. The head has a very high surface to volume ratio and is heavily vascularized, so you can lose a great deal of heat without headgear. A balaclava or facemask may be required if it is windy to prevent facial frostbite.

2. Have a dry backup- and use it! Always have a dry backup of critical clothing and don’t wait too long to change into it after you stop moving. Heat loss from a wet surface can be up to 25 times quicker than a dry one. I’ve hiked with a person who forgot this cardinal rule. She went to bed too exhausted to take off her wet socks. She woke up with toes permanently damaged from frost-bite.

3. Right size clothing: Layers that are too tight will constrict the body’s circulation so that it’ll have a tough time warming up, especially in your extremities. Tightness will also compress your clothing and actually reduce dead air space- decreasing your insulation. Beware though: Too loose and your clothing can act as a bellow and actually blow out warm air and suck in cold.

Have a great winter, and stay toasty!