Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 2, 2014

In this treacherous terrain

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:50 pm
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Upheaval Dome area is full of cliffs, as seen from this overflight photo I took last week.

Upheaval Dome area is full of cliffs, as seen from this overflight photo I took last week.

Walking two by two in the pitch-black, by starlight and headlamp, we repeatedly called the name of someone we’d never met. An elderly man had wandered away from his RV two hours before sunset without jacket, water, or food. Temperatures are still getting down below freezing each night; he wouldn’t survive until morning if we failed to find him.

Our three “hasty teams” of park rangers got to the trailhead first and began searching in the most likely places — along the steep, cliff-edged Syncline trail — while awaiting search-and-rescue personnel from over an hour away. I’d walked this perilous stretch many times, always in daylight. The new moon afforded no luxury of shadows, and our thin arc of headlamp light gave barely a hint of the chasm a few yards away. Our radios worked only intermittently in these canyons. My imaginative hiking partner presumed a hungry mountain lion lurked nearby, while I was more concerned about our nocturnal rattlesnakes.

I had returned from a long run just before the knock on my door requesting searchers, and was tired, but someone’s life was on the line. As I sat down on a rock ledge to dig in my pack for a chocolate soy milk box, the thup-thup of the arriving helicopter brought encouragement: sixty thousand lumens of light! The K-9 unit, 34 searchers from two counties, and an ambulance crew were already on scene. It was now a race against the clock.

Finding a solo male boot track in a wet sandy wash, we radioed it in. They already had found excellent prints and were on the man’s trail, so we went to the highest exposed point of rock to relieve the very chilled radio relay team. Our job was now to monitor radio traffic and pass messages to and from those without coverage in lower canyons.

High on Upheaval Dome, Emma and I turned off our headlamps and watched the helicopter make pass after pass along the ridge line, shining its spotlight in an area of interest. The pilot’s impressive skills awed us as he hovered over one spot, searching, searching. The radio crackled with news that a person was hunkered down on all fours, not moving; ground rescuers plotted the pilot’s GPS coordinates and soon reached a very cold and disoriented subject. Six hours in, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. It would be several more hours before all personnel were cleared from the scene.

Sleep was fitful. An hour after sunrise, I was opening the visitor center and welcoming our first guests. “Your park seems rather quiet,” one said. With a heart overflowing with gratitude, I could only murmur, “We prefer it that way.”

 

 

 

 

March 21, 2010

Of deer mice, car keys, and carry-outs

Some days you don’t want to do over.

I opened the Visitor Center and was busy putting money in the till, raising the flag, writing the weather report on the whiteboard… and, out of the corner of my eye, saw a mouse run for cover behind a cardboard box.

We have plenty of mice. They can carry hantavirus (serious) and are not welcome. I walked over to said cardboard box, up against a wall, and kicked it VERY HARD.

Deer mouse bleeds from nose and twitches, but is still alive. Not having latex gloves and bleach solution (necessary to kill hantavirus), I leave it there and continue opening the Visitor Center. It is disposed of (i.e., killed and put out into the food chain) by Joel, just arriving for duty.

My day, and Joel’s day, go downhill from there. I could not find my car keys when I finished my field shift at a viewpoint, and had to radio to the Vis Center to bring me the spare set of car keys for the government vehicle. The entire county can hear my plea. After re-searching every nook and cranny, I find the keys in my SHIRT POCKET (I never put them there) and radio the VC to cancel the previous call. I am embarrassed.

Meanwhile, housemate Joel’s remote ‘Fiery Furnace’ tour is 80% finished when a participant seriously injures her ankle. Unknown whether broken or sprained, a SAR (Search And Rescue) happens and a dozen people help with a litter carry-out. Housemate Lauren is one of the rescuers.

We wind down our day with Lebanese food for dinner — Chef Joel makes falafel and tabouli and all the good stuff.

I hope we do not start out with a mouse tomorrow.

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