One Day in the Life of a Volunteer Search and Rescue Dude – Part I

Daniel Dunn volunteers with the Summit County Rescue Group, one of the busiest all volunteer mountain rescue units in the country. He always tell people that it’s not like the rescues you see in the movies, all the while secretly hoping that it will be just like that, and he’ll also get the girl in the end.

Call Out

The page comes in.  11:30 am, wow, on a Tuesday. West Ridge of Quandary. Should be no big deal, I’m sure just some lost, or thinks they’re lost, hiker. They’ll get to the truck in 20 minutes, we’ll be stood down before I even get to the trailhead. No biggie. I probably shouldn’t even go, I have so much work to do, jeez I’m behind. Ah, whatever, it is Quandary, at least it’s on my side of the county, I’ll make an appearance and get credit for showing up. Cool.
Luckily, I had just packed and repacked my gear, in the back of the car, and I had just eaten lunch, awesome! But, I took enough insulin to bring my BG down to normal range, not exercise range, but no worries, I have 45 minutes in the car and a few minutes of getting ready and debrief, I’ll just top up with some cookies and milk, and digest in time.  BG on the rise.
Grab a layer out of the closet and I’m off in record time, cool. Jump in the Subee, and start driving. I love calls on Quandary when I’m at home, I live in Breck, so it’s so much easier for me to going to God forsaken Green Mt Reservoir, that drive sucks!
Thrown in some tunes, and holy cow, that’s a dark cloud. Wow, it just starting dumping on the South end of town. Jeez! that’s really coming down. Oh boy, if this does go out, this could suck. Like really suck. The freakin’ trailhead is 11,000 feet and goes up quickly from there. The only stuff that gets people in trouble back there is totally above treeline.
Oh crud, I just realized, with this weather, and that terrain back there, and what did the news/weather guy just say? An inch per hour!  Of rain!  Good God, this could get crazy!
Cruising along, at least the rain just let up a little. At the turnoff from Highway 9, hmmm, no stand down page yet, wonder what’s going on? Will this thing really happen? Maybe.
Just got to the trailhead, there’s Denny, and Pat right with him.  Damn, it’s raining really hard now. This is gonna suck. They all have their hoods up and look cold. Oh well, better start gearing up. First though, I better check, you now how these things go Dan, you get all excited and forget to eat something, and you’re 30 minutes in and you’re low. So check now, ok, good shape, 179. Perfect. Go gear up.

Mission Debrief

God it’s dumping! Pat just said a freakin’ inch of rain an hour, with flash flooding happening at lower elevations. Denny just looked at me, and the first words out of his mouth are, with that stupid grin he has every time he asks this question, “How you feelin’ today? Strong?”
I totally know what he’s getting at when he asks me that. He should of said, “Daniel, you’re going to the top. The hard way. With gear.” Because I know he wants me to hustle. Someone is in trouble, and they’re up there high, and the weather completely, and totally sucks. I’m just now starting to think that this could be a long day.
“Colin and Punchy are on their way, I need you guys to go light and fast” The light part is arguable, the fast part isn’t. We’re all really experienced in the high mountains, and I can tell by the sound of his voice that some guys are in a bad place. They’re up high, close to the summit, somewhere around 14,000 feet based on triangulation of the cell phone coordinates. How cool is that, I’m still amazed at that stuff, sometimes we can get a fix on someone’s position using some space-age technology. Well, Denny did do this stuff for the Navy. And it’s proven itself before, so I trust it. We put coordinates into the GPS, and sure enough, they’re not far from the top. Only thing is, is it easier to go this way, or up and over the top. Gosh, that’s crap land up there. All choss and crap and scree and steep as HELL. That is a really crappy area to be stuck in guys, why do people even go back there.
That’s the thing with Quandary, it’s SO easy from the East side, and it’s absolutely heinous from pretty much all other aspects. I think I’m going to self acknowledge it the loosest-crappiest rock mountain on the planet. Steep and gnarly and no trail of any kind on that back Southwest side, especially up high. Well, there’s the beginning of a trail, but it turns to nothing after an easy 20 minute hike. Then you’re in GNAR-ville. There’s even a freakin’ sign warning people back there. The sign says something to the effect, “I know your Grandmother would feel comfortable back here, on this trail, but this thing gets crappy and you should be careful, and have some experience if you’re going to hike this thing to the top.”But people ignore it. That will come back to be funny later on. In a really twisted sort of way.

In The Field

OK, here we go. Colin is team lead, with myself, Punchy, Sheri, and Mike, who I don’t know really well. But he’s always smiling, I like that. The rain has let up a little bit, but everything is soaked and so are we by the time we go through our third patch of head high, tight willows. I’m 20 minutes in and I’m soaked, this is gonna suck.
Treeline. At least we don’t have to deal with willows anymore. Man, all this rain is making things slick and dicey, to say the least. And holy crud, that cloud up there looks angry, like we haven’t even begun to see stormy weather. I’ve been in the mountains enough, this is when I go home and read. Or nap. Wow.
Denny did say these guys were holed up in some sort of cave. CAVE! Holy crap, they only things that resembles caves are around 13,800 feet. That’s high. My pack is probably over 40 pounds. I have my harness and technical gear. I have four harnesses for the four in overdue party. I have extra layers for me or them, whoever needs in first. And a bunch of extra water, Gatorade, and thermos of hot water. On top of all my other gear. Heavy pack going up. Far.
Nothing like crossing a slick boulder field with a heavy pack on. Jeez, one wrong move here and you can get seriously screwed up, really quick. Not only is this ankle twisting terrain, this is getting-your-teeth-knocked-out terrain. This is wrist breaking terrain. Everything is jagged, really hard, sharp, and going a completely different angle than the thing right next to it. With large, deep holes next to it. Really easy to slip on a ginger foot stop, have it go into that huge hole, up to your crotch, and slam your face on that boulder that happens to be in just the right place, while you’re breaking your wrist as you try to catch yourself. And were not even on the steep stuff yet.

Part Two continues tomorrow…..

PHOTOS: Courtesy of Summit County Search and Rescue, Tim Faust Photographer