Searched and Rescued


     The veil of winter's delightful springtime disguise was lifted for a brief moment this week, as a blast of long overdo wintry weather passed through and dropped a foot or two of freshies on the Sierras.  After a nice day of powder runs in the Mt. Rose backcountry on Sunday, I knew I needed to get back out again.  My workplace, which always encourages a day off to be out in nature, gave me Tuesday to go play.  So I did. 

     Justin and I started hiking out of Mt. Rose Meadows off of Highway 431 heading over the hill into Lake Tahoe.  A snowmobile access road made the first half of the hike fairly easy.  As we began hiking we mentally checked our list of backcountry supplies.  Extra layers.  Check.  Avalanche beacons.  Check.  Snacks and water.  Check.  Search and rescue conveniently running drills in the meadow with 40 well-trained guys and gals on site in case anything goes wrong.  Check.  We had all the essentials for a safe, fun afternoon outing in the backcountry. 

     Once we were about three miles in, we abandoned the snow-mo trail and headed up the mountain we intended to snowboard.  Although the hike was steep, we found a single skin track to follow so we made good time up the mountain.  I was getting excited.  The snow was so light and untouched; it sparkled like a first place trophy at the county pie eating contest.  The mountain was steep, too.  I could almost taste the sweet turns.  We summited at about 1 o'clock.  The sun was high in the cloudless, blue sky.  Although temperatures were just below freezing, the sun kept me warm. 

     Justin made the first decent.  We had planned on making two lines down the face of the mountain, and then hiking back to the top to do it again and really tear it up.  After watching Justin's gracefully quick powder run, I didn't hesitate.  A quick hop turn down the fall line and I was stoked to be riding some of the best snow this season.  About midway down, my snowboard's nose hit a rock buried about six or eight inches under the snow.  With the combination of the steep slope and the speed, I was launched (inverted) about ten feet onto rock number two.  When gravity slowed me down, I was upside down and backwards, face down in the snow and head pointing down the hill.  Out of routine (I've taken plenty of powder spills!)  I pushed up with my right arm which wasn't stuck under me like the left one.  I felt the most excruciating pain through the whole left side of my body.  In that split second, I knew there was no way I was walking off the mountain.  Helpless, I yelled for Justin who was already springing into action, pulling his split board apart and putting skins back on.  He was able to hike up to me, get some extra layers on me, and position me to sit and wait while he went to go track down a snowmobile.  I figured I'd hop on the back of a sled, bare the excruciating bumpy ride out, and take the 4Runner to the Incline Village or Truckee hospital to assess the damage.  I never imagined a spectacular rescue operation.

    I spent the next couple hours sitting on the side of the mountain fighting waives of nausea and pain, but trying to enjoy being outside.  The sun was shining on the mountains directly across from me, but not on me.  All the mountaintops I could see glistened and quieted, getting ready to end their day.  I was ready to end mine.  Care flight began to circle around where I was laying in the snow.  The helicopter had been part of the drill down in the meadow.  I sensed that maybe they were looking for me, but I didn't want to wave them down.  I felt that I didn't need care flight, and I figured if you flag them down you buy the ticket.  (I later found out that this isn't true.  They stop for free.) 

     What I thought was going to be a simple operation turned into an all-out search and rescue mission.  Although the search was easy, the rescue was dramatic.  I made my final turns off the mountain bundled in tarps and strapped to a board.  Once at the bottom and back to the access road, I was hoping for a sled ride out.  The guys in charge insisted on care flight.  So, I was lifted out.  I had a dislocated hip and a broken arm.  I'm glad to have been able to assist search and rescue with proper training... I wonder if my "participation in training" will decrease my co-pays!  Today I am mending nicely, typing 25 wpm with my right hand, and looking forward to the next day on the mountain. 

*I owe a huge thank you to my boyfriend Justin, who is always prepared and ready to spring into action.  Also, a thank you to Darrien Rice and the entire Washoe County Search and Rescue, Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue, and also Alex.  I'm not quite certain who Alex was affiliated with, but he worked his ass off getting to me, keeping snow out of my face, and keeping me comfortable.   



Operations Shots