Passageways

Passageways are magical. 

Passageways call your attention to a shift, a transition, a ‘passage’ from one way of thinking, seeing, being to the next. 

We are continually flowing through these shifts every second of our days, but often it takes the physical symbol of a passage to bring it home, to make it real to us: like a real life tarot reading that tells us what we should already be aware of, but have chosen to overlook with our conscious mind. 

Passageways are that magical set of places where the conscious and subconscious intermingle, merge, and if you allow yourself to hover there (physically, spiritually, mentally) then you might just bathe yourself in the natural upwelling of inspiration and comprehension, the understanding of your purpose and place in the natural world beyond the domesticated role of “consumer”…

 

Just sayin’

Rewilding 101

 

In our every day lives of texting, Twitter, Instagram and Angry Birds, we often don’t take the time to peel our eyes away from our iPhones and notice the amazing natural world around us.

The modern media tends to over-dramatize being a part of your natural environment as a major effort. While mother nature can have a harsh side, you don’t have to run around naked eating bugs to help reconnect yourself to your wild side (unless you really want to!).  Start with some of these easy steps and I pretty much guarantee that you’ll find yourself thirsting for more of the great outdoors.

  1. Stargazing– long ago, the patterns of nature used to be the source of our stories- and our nightly entertainment. From Orion, the giant huntsman whom Zeus placed among the stars, to the Casseopia, the queen of the night sky, their sagas have been slowly replaced by “Breaking Bad” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”.

Take a night to return to your roots. Get a hold of a book to help you identify the constellations. Then head out with a pile of comfy blankets and pillows to the back yard. Lay back and let your eyes wander amongst the stories of the heroes and villans of old, or challenge your family to come up with their own constellations, along with their unique sagas. (Although, from experience, this can get silly fast!)

  1. Firelit night. Use only candle or firelight after dark and give yourself the dual gift of a digital detox and a uniquely bonding experience with your loved ones. There’s nothing like gathering around the warm glow of a fire with your tribe of friends and loved ones.  As the warmth pulls you in closer, coversations flow more freely around a flickering flame, stories grow more meaningful and life seems somehow more real. (No, you are not weird for not having the TV buring bright holes in your retina like all your neighbors.) The campfire has been the most popular “Late Show” in human existence! (And, as a nerdy bonus, the red spectrum light from a fire doesn’t interfere with your production of the sleep hormone melatonin like bright electric light and mess with your stress, blood sugar and other hormone levels throughout the next day.)
  1. Gardening, Hunting and Gathering. Age old skills like fishing, hunting, wild food gathering and gardening are at the heart of what has made us human.

Which skill would you rather pass on to the next generation- stalking the gleaming grocery aisle and heating up the perfect package of Hamburger Helper, or knowing where and how to look for the fish in a river, or when to plant, how to nourish and harvest the perfectly ripened tomato or head of corn? Yoir kids should recognize what an actual potato plant looks like and know that trout doesn’t swim in prepackaged in plastic. Just because your parents didnt teach you doesn’t mean that you can’t learn and pass it on.

Don’t know where to start? As part of the rewilding rennaisance there are a bevy of amazing courses, meetups, clubs and gatherings that focus on helping you gain or improve traditional “primitive” and survival skills. This can be a good way to help yourself gain confidence in and reconnect with your natural skills.  Somewhat ironically, you can find most of these resources by doing a quick online search for that particular skill.

There are thousands more ways to reconnect with nature at home- we’ve barely scratched the surface. Take a moment to wake yourself from your digital daze and appreciate the natural world that surrounds you every day.  Not only will you come closer to your natural roots, but along the way you may discover a deeper connection with the loved ones and friends you share these experiences with.

Guided By Nature

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Finding your way in the woods without a map or compass can be a daunting task, yet our ancestors travelled their wild world, sometimes hundreds of miles on foot, without a breaking a sweat… How the heck did they do it??

Being guided by nature is based in reading the subtle patterns in nature that modern domesticated humans normally ignore. The directions of the world are worn into the very rocks, reflected in the undergrowth leaves reaching towards the sun and in the gnarled branches of trees twisting their way to the sky. Our ancestors could read these natural patterns as easily as you read a street sign, guiding them to their destinations and back again.

So how do we (re)train ourselves in this ancient human skill? There is no one fail safe, true in every location “trick” to natural navigation. Finding your way naturally relies on understanding of the larger natural patterns of the area you live in- the amount and direction of light, prevailing wind(s), level of moisture… These cumulative forces cause subtle asymmetries that you can learn to interpret. In short, you must spend time out in nature, observing and interacting.

Here are some handful of rough directional patterns to get you started:

1. “Into the light”. In an effect known as Heliotropism many plants orient themselves towards the greatest source of light. In our forest one of the more sensitive (and obvious) Heliotropic flora would be our lovely fiddlehead ferns. Ferns in direct sun will tend to orient much of their growth southwards to catch the most light. Note: make sure to look for obstacles to light that can change the fern’s orientation. Under heavy tree cover, heliotropic plants will orient towards the nearest bright opening in the canopy, no matter what direction it is. Open meadows may be your best bet.

2. Look for a tree’s “Heavy Side”. Lone Trees tend to be “heavier” with more leaves and branches to the south side (in our northern hemisphere) in order to catch more of the life giving sun. Take the time to walk around the tree and view it from multiple angles. Note: this effect can be muted or overridden in a grouping of trees as their shadows interact with each other.

3. Branching out. Sunlight also directs the growth of individual branches. Southern branches tend to grow more horizontally (towards the sun), while the shaded northern branches tend to grow more vertically in their quest for more sunlight. This can be most easily seen when observing the tree from East/West. Once again, individual trees are easier to read than groves.

4. Moss and moisture. Isn’t moss supposed to grow on the north side of trees? Yes, but… for the record, moss does not always grow just on the north side of trees. Where moss grows depends mainly on the level of moisture, and this is not always on the north side. Also, disregard growth in the first 2 feet up from the ground around the trunk – which tends to be influenced by the evaporating ground moisture.

Interested in exploring this further? For an engaging guide to these skills look for Tristan Gooley’s book “The Natural Navigator”. There are hundreds (possibly thousands) of more tips to explore and many more of your own to discover as you go out and start looking for your own patterns in nature.

(NOTE: This does not give you an excuse to go out into unfamiliar territory without a map!)

Happy navigating!

A Wall of Green

If you’re like most of the populace, many of your trips into nature are characterized by toiling up a dusty path through an unidentifiable and somehow vaguely unsettling corridor of green.

Sadly, most domesticated humans have an appalling lack of understanding of their vegetal surroundings and may even feel threatened by their leafy neighbors. (“Is that thing poisonous???”) Even worse, we often pass down this ignorance (and fear) to our kids.

Want to end this environmental ignorance and help your little ones learn to relate to our photosynthesizing friends in an entirely new way? Well then, it’s time for you to get to know your wild green neighbors!
well informed nature walk can be one of the best ways to help your kids (and yourself) get to know the residents of your natural neighborhood. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your trip.
 
1. Knowledge is power! Take the time before you go to learn about your green neighbors. There are an amazing amount of resources out there- from Wikipedia, to books on local flora (check the library or Amazon), to meetup groups and outdoor schools with naturalist and wild foods walks.
 
2. Ask the right questions. With so much information out there it can seem overwhelming to boil it down.  Here are some good questions to get you started in understanding a plants’ place in his ecosystem:
-Where does your plant like to live? (And why?)
-Who are his usual neighbors?
-Who likes to eat or use him?
-(How) does he defend himself?
-How does he change throughout the year? (Flowers, fruiting, growth, deciduous…?)
-How have we humans interacted with (and depended upon) him over the millennia? (medicinal uses, food prep, as building or clothing materials…)
-What are his key identifying characteristics?
3. People remember (and respect) people. When working with young kids I’d recommend initially skipping the Latin names and instead focus on helping them to see the plants as separate people with different abilities, complex personalities (not all good or bad), and likes/dislikes.
Talking with my 4 year old niece might sound a little like this: “Miss Blackberry can be really prickly -if you move too fast around her she’ll scratch you with her thorns.  She likes to live with her feet in the water and take deep drinks so that she can make extra juicy berries.” 
 
4.  Respect plants’ boundaries (and protect yourself). Make sure your kids learn not to touch or taste without knowing “who” the plant is and what his temperament is.  Most plants have defenses to be aware of.
“Mr. Stinging Nettle’s hypodermic hairs sting invaders with painful, itchy toxins to keep animals (and you) from eating too much of his really nutritious leaves.”
Help your kids to understand that plant defenses are part of the natural environment -these plants are not “bad” for defending themselves, they’re just trying to take care of themselves.
5. Avoid black and white views. Describing a plant as all “good” or “bad”gets in the way of understanding the plant’s role in its neighborhood (ecosystem).  These “difficult” plants often also have a bounty of benefits- for you and for their green neighbors.
“Mr. Nettle can provide a whole bunch of nutrients- collect his newest leaves carefully with gloves, and cook them long enough to deactivate his sting- and you will get a really yummy green.”
So get out there and explore! Understanding a plants’ complex role in its natural neighborhood, and our relationship to it- helps your child begin to see themselves as a part of their natural world, not separate from their green neighbors.

What’s Eating You?

  Every day spent hiking out in our forest brings more mysteries to be answered. This week let’s explore some partially “parasitic” partnerships that have always fascinated me out on trail.

 

INSECT GALL:

Ever see a round woody ball growing out of a tree branch? Often it’ll have a random pattern of little holes dotting it’s smooth surface. You are looking at a bona-fide insect larvae condo! An “Insect Gall” is a custom construction project of living plant tissue with the resident insect playing lead contractor. In order to hijack plant growth to form galls, the insect must seize a time when plant cell division occurs quickly: in our part of the world, that means Spring!

The insect (and/or it’s larvae) feeds on the rapidly growing plant tissue while injecting chemicals to encourage further growth. Quickly growing (meristenatic) tissues like buds, bark, and leaves are most vulnerable to these little guys.

After the gall is formed, the insect larvae develop inside until fully grown. Galls provide the industrious little larvae with not only a 4-course buffet, but their own impenetrable fortress, protecting them from predators as they grow. When they are ready, they bore out an exit hole and venture out into the wide world.

Galls, especially those located In the woody portions of plants) also tend to be a rich source of concentrated tannins, which makes them a great medicinal resource as strong astringents. 

Although insect galls get bad raps for their role as “unsightly” tumors on plants, they are completely harmless. The insects are usually excellent caretakers and make sure that their construction projects do not threaten their hosts. Most species even provide an overall benefit for their host or local environment including quite helpful pollination services for the plants, and food sources for our beautiful birds and bats!

As a healthy bonus for those of us with a tendency for wildcraftin, the galls of many plants contain a high concentration of immune stimulating substances. but before you go out collecting, make sure that you have checked on the safety of the plant in question and thoroughly checked it for any unwanted denizens or harmful fungus, etc.

MISTLETOE:

Particularly noticeable in winter as an oddly green bushy clump high up in the barren branches of trees, Mistletoe is a (in)famous parasite that attaches itself to trees and shrubs, pirating water and nutrients from it’s host.

American mistletoe’s scientific name, Phoradendron, means “thief of the tree” in Greek. However, Mistletoe’s common definition as a tree-killing pest may be too simplistic a view. Mistletoe may take from the tree for its own survival, but it pays back to the local ecology in several unexpected ways.

Despite it’s nasty reputation, studies reveal that an abundance of mistletoe in a forest means that many more kinds and numbers of birds and critters can thrive there. An amazing variety of critters rely on mistletoe for their food, especially in winter. Animals from birds to squirrels, chipmunks, porcupines and even deer eat the leaves, tender young shoots and juicy berries, leaving behind mistletoe seeds in their droppings.

These seeds will again grow into mistletoe’s medusa-like masses of branching stems, providing excellent shelter and nesting sites for many animals. The northern spotted owl is always on the lookout for a nice mistletoe to settle down in. The caterpillar stage of several beautiful butterfly species also use mistletoe greenery as their shelter, and as their only food. Even better, Mistletoe flowers often provide the very first pollen available in the spring for extremely hungry honeybees and native bees.

Thus, although it can shorten the life of some trees, mistletoe can also have a very positive effect on on our forest, providing high quality nutrition and homes for a broad range of critters. So next time you get a chance, take another look at these “bad guys”.

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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