Early Season Winter Storm Causes Busy Week of Rescues

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Sunrise for Incident Command at Lone Pine Airport.


From Saturday October 3 through Saturday October 10, Inyo SAR aided ten persons out of the mountains. The week began with a couple of cases of mild hypothermia on Mt Whitney. The team partnered with China Lake Mountain Rescue for the first event and spent all night hiking up to trail camp. Many reports had come in from several sources regarding the location, status, and number of patients on the mountain. Just around midnight the team leader spoke with the leader of a group of 19 who was able to at least give names of those who had not yet made it down the mountain, and the latest reports of the condition of the remaining group members.  On the way up the trail, the team found that other hikers on the mountain lent a helping hand in a big way to those who were struggling. One patient was resting comfortably in Outpost Camp with some friendly hikers who were happy to help the person down the trail in the morning after a good rest. A second group member turned out to be fine and was hiking down. He was able to give a better update of the two who were still up near Trail Camp. The team finally made it to these patients at about 4am October 4, just before the clouds started to build over the Sierra. During the night, persons on the mountain and in the valley could see lightning in the distance far to the East and West.12122935_509249125924326_6759194479917487_n

Hiking patients down the Whitney Trail as a winter storm moves in.

The two patients, a husband and wife, were suffering from mild hypothermia. They had been given some extra clothing by others on the trail, and found an abandoned tent to shelter in overnight. They had only been prepared for a day hike, but altitude illness had slowed them down, causing them to become cold and move even slower. After the SAR team arrived, the patients were wrapped in sleeping bags and given warm water bottles, warm beverages and food, and slowly they began to recover. A while later, they were able to begin moving around to generate more heat and they improved reasonably well. As it began to snow, the team hoped to get a helicopter in under the cloud ceiling, but just as the SEKI airship arrived in the area to assist, the clouds descended and blocked the helicopter out of the canyon. Luckily, by this time the patients had recovered enough to be able to walk with some assistance, and as more rescuers arrived on scene, the whole group started down the trail. As they descended, the patients improved further and all arrived at the trailhead around 2 pm.

As the winter storm picked up, many more calls for help came in to dispatch. A couple of teams of SAR members started up the trail, but the snow was falling so heavily and rapidly that travel was very slow and difficult. By the time they reached Trail Camp on Monday, the powder was thigh-deep and due to whiteout conditions, the teams were forced to turn around. Tuesday brought some windows in the storm and H-40 was able to insert several SAR members at Outpost Camp, who were then able to continue farther up and provide assistance. At least one patient was carried out via helicopter and taken to the hospital with frostbite. Two more were pulled off of New Army Pass after being unprepared to handle the snowy conditions.

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After a couple days respite, on Friday evening a new call came in from three climbers stranded on a ledge below Middle Palisade. They had been attempting to climb the East Face and as darkness approached they were still below the summit. Unprepared to spent the night, they began to descend only to find that they had lost their one headlamp along the way. For a while, one of the party would lower the other two for a full rope length, then down-climb to meet them. After a while it became too dark to safely continue and they were in near-vertical terrain with loose powdery snow. They spent a cold night huddled together on the ledge. First thing in the morning, H-40 arrived out of Fresno and located the group. The helo picked up a SAR member from Bishop, and lowered her out to the climbers while hovering. The SAR member was able to set up the climbers for extraction and H-40 first took two of the climbers to a lower landing site on Coyote Flat, then came back for the third climber and SAR member. Everyone was then shuttled back to the SAR base, where family members of the climbers were waiting expectantly.

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Palisades from Coyote Flat.

Posted in 2015, Missions Reports.