Search and Rescue Support, RV-Style

All I really wanted to do was hide out and avoid the excitement of the upcoming 4th of July weekend.  I failed.

The black car was the only one left after the hailstorm yesterday afternoon. Truck and other truck up on the highway are the overnight fire and rescue staff.

The black car was the only one left after the hailstorm yesterday afternoon. Truck and other truck up on the highway are the overnight fire and rescue staff.

I've been camped for three days at the end of Forest Road 2124, a little spur off the Beartooth Highway on the plateau at 10,164 feet along the Montana-Wyoming border. Things were nice and peaceful until Saturday, when two or three dozen day trippers show up, and the parking area fills up with hikers and mountain bikers, all headed down the trail that goes off across the tundra.  Great, I say to myself. Loose dogs, loud kids…  all these people need to get off my lawn.

I was actually glad when it started to cloud up in mid-afternoon. When the rain and pea-sized hail began to fall around 4 PM, the parking lot cleared out in a hurry, and I was relieved – until I noticed that there was still one car in the parking lot. NOT good.  Someone was still out on the trail.

As it got dark, I left my porch light on as a beacon – from here you can see clear across a large depression with a little lake in it, probably a glacial cirque, but still the car sat there. Around 11 PM, two EMT staff from the Red Lodge, MT fire and rescue operation showed up – dispatch had gotten a weak cell phone call from the two bikers saying they were lost.  The flashing emergency lights of their truck made a much better beacon than my porch light, and one of them went down the trail a mile or so, but no luck. The overnight temperature was in the mid-40s, and these bikers were cold, wet and ill equipped for a night at 10,000 feet. NOT good.

The sheriff's office and volunteers show up at dawn.

The sheriff's office and volunteers show up at dawn.

At dawn, the cavalry arrived – four trucks with local search and rescue volunteers and sheriff's office staff. Out came the spotting scopes, fancy mountain bikes, radios, maps, and the group quickly developed and implemented a strategy to search the trail and nearby drainages. I provided coffee, internet access through my satellite dish, and weather radar displays, which were greatly appreciated. They had maybe 8-10 hours before the thunderstorms were going to return, and needed to work fast.  By [6:30] AM they had divided into groups and were fanning out down the trail and across the area.

Rescue base camp, with spotter scope.

Rescue operations center, with spotter scope.

The spotter on the large monocular spotting scope soon located two people on foot walking along a ridge a mile or so distant, and radios crackled. A little after 8 AM, the bikers were found by the rescue staff, rehydrated, given granola bars, and slowly walked back to the parking area.  They had taken a wrong turn and were lost when the weather turned bad. One of their bikes had been incapacitated with a flat tire, and they had left it, huddled together through the night, and were warming up in the morning sun and making their way to high ground when they were spotted.

Rescued bikers and EMTs chat post-rescue. Rescue dog is trying to rescue Fiona, who is saying unkind things to him out the window,

Back safely, bikers and EMTs chat behind my rig. The rescue dog is trying to rescue Fiona, who is saying bad things to him out the window.

They had seen moose and mountain goats, but thankfully nothing more, um…  carnivorous. They indicated that they wouldn't be seeking out any more wilderness experiences in the near future, thanked the rescue staff, and accepted my offer of hot coffee and a WiFi hookup to email the worried folks back home.

The rescue staff also thanked me for the support – having internet connectivity up here on the Beartooth Plateau is so uncommon that they didn't bring much of their communications equipment, expecting to be limited to radios. I had WiFi, hot coffee, a rescue cat on standby if needed.  It was an unexpected opportunity to provide assistance thanks to being able to provide the rescuers with descriptions of the bikers and the timeframe of their departure, and also I was able to provide many things you wouldn't expect to find on a mountain plateau, thanks to the functionality of my Roadtrek. I didn't plan on all the company and excitement, but it was good to be able to help. Needless to say, everyone was happy that we had a good outcome.

Another day, another group of trail bikers heads down the same trail, with severe afternoon thunderstorms forecast.

Another day, another group of trail bikers heads down the same trail, with thunderstorms forecast.

Then the rescuers and bikers drove off. For an hour or so, I was alone again. And then Sunday's crop of day trippers showed up with bikes, tank tops and flip-flops, and headed down the same trail after posing for a group photo.  I check the weather – severe thunderstorms with hail again this afternoon. I might as well stay here, and get the coffee pot ready – got a big holiday weekend coming up, and city folks want to get out and have a wilderness experience… I'll leave the porch light on for them.

 





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17 comments

  1. Stu

    Great work, I was in Emergency Management in my county and sure wish I had my Roadtrek then it sure would have come in handy. I guess there was a reason for you being in that area and hope the rest of your stay is quite and peaceful.

    • Campskunk
      Author

      i was gonna tell Mike Wendland a sob story about how hard his guest bloggers were working, pounding the pavement, blah blah blah, but the truth is i was just sitting around where this happened. i’ll have to think up something else to tell Mike.

  2. Rich and Veronica

    Another Great story Campskunk! Truly understand how the peacefulness was probably interrupted but there was a happy ending. When we traveled out West we relied on our USFS Topo maps to help us find the remote areas. That was in the pre computer day’s of travel. Your internet connectivity and Wi-Fi hook up continues to intrigue me. Thanks again, Rich, RT210 P

  3. leslie wiggins-baker

    so, campskunk, after following you thru pics & articles — when is your book going to be published? I am sure it would make good reading . . . must be those trekkie subsonic communications that are giving out the vibe that you are available and attracting the adventures to you — lol

  4. Laura HughesPostema

    Great story! Your momma raised you right, Campskunk. Looks like you have more encouragement on the book front…you already have the material, you simply need format it for print and Ebook!

  5. Laura Robinson

    Wow! Way to go RT Campskunk- a lot of folks wouldn’t bother to “get involved”. And another good reason to be wired in!

  6. When we bought our used Roadtrek last fall, the first thing my Amateur Radio club members said was that it would make a great mobile command post. We support things like this with auxiliary communications.

  7. Campers and people who have an active lifestyle in camping are normally the best prepared for emergency situations. Majority of them are as considerate as this gentleman. Nice story. Thank you.