Friday, April 27, 2012

OMTRS: Gila by Night

It's been quite a while since I participated in a rescue mission. Partially this is because there haven't been as many call-outs in the past year, but also family has kept me closer to home. When a mission call-out for the Gila happened to coincide with a regular off-Friday at work, I jumped at the opportunity. The missions involved searching for some day-hikers who had not returned. We would be searching through the night for the first operational period, so I packed up lots of warm clothing and plenty of light/batteries.

5 OMTRS members responded, enough to field one team, plus provide some base support. Our field team consisted of 4 strong hikers, Gary, James Robert and myself. The other three had recently been in the Gila searching for Micah True only a few weeks earlier, so they all knew the area pretty well. This was a major plus considering we would be hiking in the night on wilderness trails. We were searching for a 50-something year old couple who were out for a long dayhike to some hot springs. Three other teams were already assigned the main trails that would lead to the hot springs, so we were assigned a side trail of the Middle Fork of the Gila River. Actually, we were assigned a "social trail". I had never heard this phrase before but it became instantly clear. A trail not marked on any maps, but it known through social circles. It turned out to be a pretty well maintained trail, even had a gate at the wilderness boundary.

Our main objective was to gain a large mesa simply titled, Gila North Mesa, and to run a loop of trails around the top. the idea being they could have got off on this spur trail to try to find higher ground to signal some help. Once we were on the proper social trail, it was easy going, but we were all pretty tired. We hit the top of the mesa around 1 am and stopped for a "night-lunch". James, ever prepared, brewed up a cup of Ramen noodles. I sucked some power-gel. Robert promptly fell asleep. All of us had worked full days already and the hike and late-hour was beginning to take its toll. Robert seemed especially tired, and kept dropping his flashlight on the trail, practically sleep walking. I gave him a caffeinated gel which seemed to help.

 Our loop trail around the top of the mesa turned out not to be so straight-forward. Basically three trails looped around the mesa forming a sort of triangle. The first leg was no problem but we couldn't find the trail that was supposed to be the second leg. After wasting a bunch of time looking for where the trail was supposed to be, we eventually decided just to go cross country following the location on our maps where the trail was supposed to be. This roughly corresponded to a fence-line. Once we picked up the third leg it was easy going again.

On the way down off the mesa it began to get light. To perform a thorough search, we took the spur trail all the way down to the Middle Fork (not the way we came). Again there was some confusion here because the maps showed the trail junction at the wrong place. We found out later from Gila Rangers that this trail had been moved 10-20 years ago but that most maps were not updated. Too bad Incident Command didn't know that. Below is our team at the trail junction of the spur trail and our "social trail".
 Once down on the Gila we verified that we were on the right trail (White Rocks trail), then followed the river a little ways. We passed by some campers and figured we should check to make sure they weren't who we were looking for. Unfortunately we couldn't radio Incident Command this deep in the canyon or we would have found out that one of the other teams had already stopped by and questioned these campers. So the campers got an early morning wake-up call. I think they said something like "you guys are still searching for them?".
 We had to cross the river a few times. One benefit of our assignment is that it was almost entirely in high-dry terrirtory. Some of the other teams had dozens of crossings. Since we only had a few to negotiate, we did our best to stay dry. Below Robert negotiates one of our sketchier crossings.
 We rolled back into camp tired after a 12+ mile loop hike through the night. No sign of the subjects. About 1/2hr after we got back, news came in that the subjects were located, and that there had been a misunderstanding, turns out no one was lost after all. To quote the incident Commander, "It is better to search for somone who is not lost, than to not search for someone who is."
Well, I for one enjoyed the night-long hike in an area I've never hiked before. It really made me want to come back and hike some of these trails again.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Checkerboard wall with my Dad

I'll be the first to admit that I haven't been climbing much lately. But when my dad came down to help out around the house before our Daughter was born, I couldn't resist taking him out climbing one day. We had a pleasant climb up the Crosstrainer on Checkerboard Wall.
 Above: Dad racking up for the crux pitch.

It felt good to be out traversing stone once again. the route was easy, the day was warm and we both felt good scaling up the wall. Since my Dad's been climbing more than me recently, I gave him most the leads. He also got to play with me double-rope system which was fun.