On Saturday at 4:30 pm, I got a call from a friend from Bonners Ferry, Kip, informing me that a friend of his reached out via “In reach” (satellite texting device) in a serious predicament. The messages indicated that the skier had taken a large fall and got separated from his daughter. He thought he had minor injuries and hoped we could get snowmobiles to him. Kip sent me the map with the mans gps coordinates. I took one look and knew it wasn’t a possibility to get snowmobiles all the way to him. We began working on a plan to get as close as possible with snowmobiles and send some guys in on snowshoes to try to access the man and his daughter for the night to keep them alive.
We knew the search and rescue had been informed and were working their way up ore creek, trying to gain access to Engle Ridge to get close to the lost people. By looking at the map and the last coordinates of the man, I knew it was impossible to get to that location from the ore creek side without falling off a cliff or setting off an avalanche and someone else ending up seriously injured or dead. At this time we thought both the father and daughter were down over the ridge in this drainage. So we decided to try our best to get up the North Fork of Mckay. Kip Hartman, Cordell Jensen, David Overman, Travis Schneider, Ben Andrews and Myself left hwy 200 at 8:30 pm. We rode our snowmobiles hard and fast all night to get as far up and as quickly as we could. We crossed a creek, sawed blown down trees, pulled all of our sleds up and over rootwads and logs and got the snowmobiles buried in the deep snow upwards of 20 times in chest deep snow.
Finally, at 4:00 am, we reached the highest point we could go, hoping we could boon-dock through the timber to get closer to the location of the man. That turned out to be impossible after several attempts. Everyone was soaked, exhausted, cold and started to run low on fuel. We were able to get cell phone reception and were able to make some calls to get reinforcements on their way to come hopefully take over from as far as we had made it. We were able to make contact with the search and rescue crew on the other side of the draw who were also trying their best to access these people. They informed us that they were also nearing exhaustion and were going to have to turn around soon. We headed back down the mountain and got to the point closest to the man. From there, even being dog tired, wet, cold and ready to give up, Travis Schneider insisted that they at least drop down on snowshoes to the bottom of the draw to try and locate tracks and see if the person had worked their way down the draw. Travis, David Overman and Ben Andrews left the snowmobile trail at 5:00 am. The other three of us headed back down the mountain to gain further information, refuel and hopefully get a tiny bit of rest before heading back up.
By the time we got back home and refueled, we hadn’t been there an hour and a half and we got a notification via In reach that the group of our 3 hikers had found tracks and then knew for sure that the father was still alive. They relayed the information of where he was, that he was alive, and where to go to the reinforcements from bonners ferry that luckily just showed up to the point we left the hikers not long after. The three hikers from our group kept going trying to get to the last known coordinates of the lost daughter. Two of the second group of guys hiked in, successfully finding the father and helping him to get back out to the snowmobiles.
We headed back up the trail to help get the father out. Met up with the group of guys bringing him out and got the father down to the ambulance. We waited there to hear from the hikers from our group. They had turned around after getting as far as they could toward the daughter’s location and realizing there was no chance of accessing her from the draw they were in. They finally got back to their sleds at around 3:00 pm and worked their way down the mountain to us. About that time, Two Bear Air finally got an opening in the weather and was able to fly. They were able to locate the daughter on the ridge and successfully hoist her up.
Those three men, snowmobiled tirelessly all night, and hiked all day without stopping trying to find these people. Unbelievable what they did. If they hadn’t done what they did and left the snowmobiles at 5:00 am, there’s a very high chance no one could have gotten into the father in time. They hiked for 10 hours straight through waist to chest deep snow.
I just wanted to tell the story of my point of view so everyone realizes just how serious this was. Not just for the lost people. All the other people who selflessly risked their lives, health, and equipment to try and help strangers in need. I hope everyone can learn a couple valuable lessons from this ordeal. There were big groups of search and rescue, fire department, fish and game EMT’s, deputies and countless locals doing whatever they could to help in this situation. I don’t know what all they had to go through this weekend, but I wanted everyone to know at least part of what happened and the risk involved for everyone.
1. There is no such thing as “Over prepared.” No matter what you’re doing, be prepared for the absolute worst outcome. If you’re not, don’t do it.
2. Is it worth it? If there’s any question of putting yourself, your child, a friend, a family member, a search and rescue crew, a helicopter pilot or absolutely anyone else at risk. Is it worth it to risk any or all of that for some thrill? There are so many ways to have fun, and be very safe about it. Is it worth it to push the limits?