MRG Quarterly Meeting

DSCF0243The Mountain Rescue Group (MRG) quarterly meetings generally go off without a hitch, but the most recently planned meeting was put off twice. The first delay was for a call out to El Dorado County; the second time it was postponed because of an Antioch search. Looks like the third time’s the charm as the meeting was finally held July 29.

The session began with mission recaps and discussion about the upcoming MRG Type 1 training Aug. 1 through 3.

The meeting also featured team tech specialist David Cossu, who described and demonstrated the mobile command field electronics. We tested the plotter, satellite phone, wireless networks for remote field operations and lots of other resources.

One new piece of equipment stole the show: the BGAN portable broadband Internet and phone. This game-changing piece of equipment allows for Internet access and phone calls in places where there is no cell service.

It was a hands-on couple of hours. After several months of planning and pulling equipment together, our mobile field electronics are finally ready to be field-tested.

The MRG meetings are open to all CoCoSAR team members, not just Type 1. Contact Chris Coelho for information about MRG.

CoCoSAR Picture Of The Day

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CoCoSAR team member Brad Schimek holds out a radio direction finder as fellow team members (John Sutter, Cameron Soo, Don Kavanaugh, Paul Healy and Kerrie Tseung) take a compass bearing on its position. The device is used as part of the team's ELT (electronic location transmitter) training. The ELT is designed to find downed aircraft and is one of the skills CoCoSAR's mountain rescue group must demonstrate as part of their annual MRA (Mountain Rescue Association) Wilderness Search Tactics recertification. (Photo Credit: Natalie Zensius)

Training Recap: AWST 2013

1146801_10201536653200777_95795421_oAugust began with the CoCoSAR Type 1 MRG Advanced Wilderness Search Tactics (AWST) training. Conducted once a year, this is one of the major training markers to qualify for MRG/Type 1, covering a period of three days and two nights in the mountains at altitudes above 7,000 feet.

This year, 12 candidates and six proctors traveled to Mammoth to train in the Thousand Island Lake area in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Kristl Buluran was one of the candidates and this is her story.

I’m probably the most inexperienced candidate in this pool. I joined SAR last year with no backpacking or camping experience, so what was my rationale to continue through the Type 1 academy? I wanted to help people. But, truthfully, I also wanted to be badass.

What I lacked in skill and experience, I thought I could make up for in determination and heart, and I could learn the skills and gain the experience along the way.

Or, maybe not.

Three sheriff’s vehicles transported 18 people for the six-hour drive. Halfway through Yosemite, I started feeling tingling in my fingers and toes, lightheadedness, mild motion sickness, and just an overall feeling of unease. I hoped it would pass–I was determined and looking forward to beginning the hike.

At Mammoth, lead proctor Joe Keyser split us up into two teams to hike 9 miles to camp at Thousand Island Lake.

This turned out to be by far the most challenging and brutal hike I’ve ever done. I battled dizziness and lightheadedness the entire hike.  I am a slow hiker even at best (Mikel Kinser anointed me “Stubby” for good reason). I also got a much-needed, but harsh lesson in the level of teamwork required for Type 1 when it became clear the team would not make it to camp before sunset at the pace I was setting; I would have to share some of my load with my teammates.

Oh, what a humbling experience. Yet, everyone was supportive and understanding, and, after eventually sucking up my pride, I was grateful my teammates absorbed some of my pack weight. We made it to camp with barely enough light to set up.

That evening, most felt okay, aside from the headache and slight nausea that is common while adjusting to high altitude. Some (including me) were a bit worse for wear… more nausea, more dizziness, more blech. I ate and drank what I could, then retired to my tent.

Sleep was not to be because I couldn’t breathe. And breathing was not to be because of the altitude. Plus, despite all my layers,  I was freezing.

In the morning, Todd Rogers took over as lead proctor for a training-filled day, beginning with a lesson in using what was in our packs to create litters to carry a downed subject.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 10.36.33 PMProctors hammered us with questions: What if this person had a head injury? How would you hold C-spine? What about a broken leg — show me what you would use to splint it. What if he had both? Is your litter sturdy enough to support his entire body? What if you only had three people?

So many questions! But all of them were necessary to demonstrate possible dilemmas and solutions in a Type 1 rescue, and to illustrate the level of teamwork required to bring someone safely down a mountain.

After a few hours, we were split into two teams with Natalie Zensius and Laura Carmody as leads. The choice: a very challenging search area or a very, VERY challenging search area. Natalie’s team chose the latter, Laura’s the former. Guess which team I was on?

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 10.40.10 PMWe were instructed to grid the area along the way to our search area. This exercise drove home the difficulties of searching an area of dense wilderness and uncharted terrain. It became clear that two things are musts for a Type 1: qualified and fit team members, and lots and lots of callouts.

In order to be a Type 1 searcher, one needs to be conditioned as well as fit. There is a difference and I, who have always considered myself fit, realized I was not conditioned.

As we climbed to over 10,000 feet, I immediately felt the effects of altitude and fell out. Everything began to spin. I fought hard against it as my team carried me to a rock under shade. Laura and Pat Dodson placed wet cloths over me while Micheal Riggs and Steve Webber took off my pack and fanned me down. In the meantime, John Banuelos and Mary Carreno decided I was done and Mary would walk me back to camp.

This time I did not protest. I wanted down … and out.

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I did not complete this part of the training, but I later learned Banuelos became the subject who “fell while taking a bio break.” My team called the other team to assist in building a litter to carry him to a landing zone. (The other team also had to run uphill to make it to a “helicopter pickup” within 20 minutes.  Hate to say it, but I was happy to not have been on that team.)

About five hours later, both teams returned, exhausted. I felt so much better (apparently the climb to over 10,000 feet is exactly what I needed to acclimate). I was glad to see everyone and anxious to hear their stories.

After dinner, Todd asked each team member three questions: What did you like about the training; what didn’t you like; and what have you learned? The responses helped give me perspective on training and preparation to be an effective and successful Type 1 member.

The second night was much more comfortable than the first thanks to acclimating. Next morning, coming “down” the mountain, we still did a lot of climbing. Although concerned because of my earlier difficulties, I felt much better and almost fully acclimated to the thin mountain air.

Once again we split into two groups: the fast group (Team 1), proctored by Banuelos and Andy Csepely, and the not-so-fast group (Team 2), proctored by Todd and led by Steve. Guess which group I was in?

Team 1 led the charge with about a 30-minute head start. I was asked to set the pace for Team 2. I was hesitant, but greatly encouraged by everyone on my team, especially Natalie, who said, “Don’t worry … I’m on her!”

And that she was. Thanks to tips Laura and Natalie gave me on how to maneuver over rough terrain, loose rock and shale, and how to use trekking poles, etc., my pace was soon both brisk and comfortable. In fact, I found myself hiking faster than I ever had before. Something about acclimating made me feel like Superwoman; blood flowing, oxygen filling my lungs, head clear … I had energy I hadn’t had in days … or maybe ever.

1091053_10201536658520910_281168325_oThroughout the hike we checked in with Team 1 and soon learned they weren’t far ahead. Team 1 had left sticks and branches spelling out “Team 1” (as if to mark their dominance), which only served to tickle my competitive streak.

“You know, we could actually catch up to them, Kristl,” my team said. “It would be awesome to see Banuelos’ face when he sees us passing them, Kristl.”

That did it; we were off.  And when we caught up to Team 1 and Banuelos saw us coming, he yelled, “No way!” Team 1 parted a course for us to pass, exchanging high-fives and “good jobs!”

In the end, I found great satisfaction in knowing I made it through the weekend, as difficult and challenging as it was. Even though I failed AWST, I learned what it takes to be a Type 1 – the level of conditioning necessary to be an effective team member, and the seriousness of the training to match the seriousness of the search and rescue. I learned of my own limitations, and how being unprepared adversely affects a search when lack of skills creates a liability.

Moreover, I believe there is no such thing as failure; only opportunities, lessons learned, and good stories. I have much more to learn, but this weekend solidified my respect for the Type 1 team and increased my gratitude for teammates who were there for me.

Now the best part of this story is the ending, when I say, “So, while we were at the shuttle stop waiting for Team 1….”

My BWST : The View from the Back

By Wilma Murray

“The road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where, who knows where …”

It’s an old song, and familiarity with its lyrics no doubt dates me (and you). But it’s the song that comes to mind following what was a long, winding weekend for me as I tried to pocket another requirement on the way to Type-1dom: Basic Wilderness Search Tactics, or, BWST for short.

            There’s something a little crazy about this journey for me. (Okay, a LOT crazy.) Despite being a longtime soccer player (30+ years) who loves to play sports, I am no outdoors aficionado. In fact, I’m the queen of comfort, always eschewing dirt and inconvenience if it isn’t attached to a competitive game. I’m most happy in a cozy chair with a good book.

            And, frankly, I’m pretty creaky, with joints that could use a good dose of WD-40 every day (and ½ of one that’s made of spare parts). But in the almost-three years I’ve been on the CoCoSAR team, I’ve found myself drawn to doing things I never thought I could do – or wanted to do. Hiking, for starters.

            The basic Type 3 hike was a slog for me; dragged down with my son’s metal weights in the bottom of a school backpack, I was anything but searcher-ready. But then I began to get the hang of it and by last year, I actually enjoyed proctoring Type 2 hikes.

            Fast forward to this year: Here I was, heading out for my novice backpacking weekend with a group of die-hard outdoors persons (okay, except for Kristl), a borrowed backpack et al (thanks, Lauren) on my back. I had set up the tent once in my family room. Otherwise, this was all new. And, frankly, scary as all you-know-what.

            Right off the bat, I needed special treatment. Can’t do winding roads, so I had to drive. But all were willing to accommodate, and this continued, every step of the way.

            From that point on, my weekend was a team effort … from the beginning, when John Hubinger helped me fit my backpack properly; to the middle, when Chris Coelho and Robert Medearis helped me drive the stakes into the ground (and advised me on the finer tent details), and Banuelos walked me back to camp when others wanted to go the extra mile to watch another team; to the end, when my proctor Chris continued with welfare checks and offered to carry some of my stuff – fellow candidates and proctors were with me all the way. Encouragement and support were as high on the ingredients list as instruction.

            And despite my – often comedic – lack of experience, nobody balked. Nobody tried to discourage me, except me, and I was truly excellent at that, if nothing else. My weekend mantra, peppered with innumerable four-letter words (mostly inside my head, but a few eked out), was “I am SO NOT Type 1. This is SO NOT for me.”

            And yet …

            There is something incredibly compelling about being in the midst of people willing to go that extra mile – and another extra mile, and still another extra mile – to be prepared to help someone in need.

            Frankly, we have a whole team of folk like that, with people putting their energy full-force into all aspects of running the program. But the Type 1ers have a different kind of energy – not better, just different. They can admittedly be uber gung-ho, and for the neophyte, that can be intimidating. But they are also there, present, and ready to be of service, as was evidenced this weekend.

            I will never, ever be able to say, as others did at the debriefing: “Wow, this was FUN!” Nope. This is not my idea of fun. And at that point, I was so tired and sore and discouraged by my lack of ability to keep up that I was struggling just to keep my emotions in check.

            But I did it; I made it, thanks to all the hands and hearts that helped carry me along. I may not be able or willing to go on to the next step (Advanced Wilderness Search Tactics – a two-nighter event), or, if I do, I may not ever be on the Type-1 callout list. But to know that I was part of this intense process with such a strong and caring group of people made it all worth it.

            The rest of that song stanza – slightly paraphrased – sums up this remarkable team effort:

            “But we’re strong; strong enough to carry her; she ain't heavy, she's our sister.” 

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CoCoSAR Type 1 Candidates Steve Webber, Natalie Zensius, Wilma Murray (front row), Pat Dodson, Kristl Buluran, Phil Novak, Laura Carmody, Mikel Kinser, Don Kavanaugh, Micheal Riggs and John Hubinger relax after a challenging weekend. Team proctors: Chris Coelho, Tom McGee, Robert Medearis, Tim Murphy, John Banuelos, Reza Farsati and John Venturino.

(Photo: Natalie Zensius)

CoCoSAR 2013 Type 1 Academy Begins

This week, 11 new candidates and four candidates returning from previous years, began the CoCoSAR Type 1 Academy. Joe Keyser, Academy Training Sergeant, gives an overview of what the students are learning.

What does it mean to be a Type 1 searcher for CoCoSAR?
Being a Type 1 searcher means you respond to callouts in the most difficult and remote terrain in California. Type 1s can be requested to deploy almost anywhere in the state unsupported for up to 72 hours.

What types of terrain do CoCoSAR Type 1 searchers typically operate in?
The state of California defines Type 1 terrain as steep, high altitude, snow-covered or rough. Usually we operate in very remote areas. In the past, we’ve deployed to wilderness areas such as Yosemite, Ventana, Yolla Bolly, King's Canyon, Sequoia and Ansel Adams, as well as remote areas in many of the state's national forests.

How many Type 1 searches does CoCoSAR typically participate in every year?
Typically we average about two Type 1 searches a year. Last year, however, due to a variety of factors, including an early fall snowstorm, we responded to five Type 1 callouts.

How long does it typically take to complete the CoCoSAR required Type 1 training?
While it’s possible to complete all Type 1 trainings in one year, most people complete it in two or more years. Due to the volume of trainings and inevitable schedule conflicts, it’s very challenging to get everything done in one year.

Besides the academy, what other training do candidates have to complete before they can achieve Type 1 status for CoCoSAR?
In addition to the academy, candidates must complete the Diablo endurance hike (DEH); the advanced land navigation classroom sessions and field exercise; basic wilderness search tactics (an overnight backpacking trip); and advanced wilderness search tactics (a two-night long-distance backpacking trip). They also need to complete the course in wilderness first aid (WEMR). Those are required for Type-1 status. Type 1 searchers may also choose to continue their training to become certified in high-altitude terrain, snow terrain, or technical snow and ice terrain.

What types of skills will the candidates be learning in the Academy?
Candidates will learn about wilderness communication, gear, risk assessment, body management, available advanced trainings and more. New this year will be weapons-awareness training.

How many Type 1 team members does CoCoSAR have currently?
The team currently has about 30 active Type 1 members.

Who should consider becoming a Type 1 team member for CoCoSAR?
Any current Type 2 team member who wants to improve his/her searcher skills, challenge himself/herself physically and mentally, train and search in some of the most remote and beautiful places in the state and assume more of a leadership role on the team should consider Type 1 training.

 

Mountain Rescue Group Potluck Barbecue

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Last night, the Mountain Rescue Group leadership held a potluck barbecue at Castle Rock Park for current Type 1 candidates and anyone else interested in the MRG. Family and friends came along too. Students got a chance to debrief the Advanced Land Nav class, and MRG leadership offered insight and words of encouragement before they embark upon a series of trainings this summer. 

(Photo: Natalie Zensius, Rick Kovar, Patrick Dodson, Rick Najarian and Phil Novak work to assemble the MRG's latest gear acquisition: a mobile Command Post. Photo by Wilma Murray.)

Announcement: Upcoming COCOSAR Rope Rescue Training

USAR LAngleBeginning this month, and for three subsequent months, the USAR/MRG staff(s) will be offering rope rescue training to CoCoSAR team members. This training is open to all team members, regardless of their previous experience. The trainings will be tailored to attendees' skill levels and held in the USAR resource monthly training slots (third Saturday of every month.)

Stay tuned for more details to come and start practicing your knots!

CoCoSAR Advanced Land Navigation Class

Last week Type 1 Academy students began CoCoSAR’s two-evening Advanced Land Navigation class. In the classroom, students learned all the ins and outs of maps and compasses.

Today they were tasked with putting those skills to work as the class concluded with an all-day, solo field test at a secret location. This year, students were joined by current Type 1 team members who were conducting a simultaneous field exercise to refresh and maintain their navigation skills.

Mixed in with the inevitable excitement was some trepidation about what the field-test day might have in store for students; however, graduates of the class reported that it was a fun-filled day and an extremely useful experience.

Class instructors Dr. Mark Sembrat and Jack Peabody discuss the class and how they came to lead it in the following Q&A session. 

How did each of you get so interested/passionate about navigation?

MS: I was involved with adventure racing in a former life and since the course is not marked, you’re very dependent on the efficiency of the navigator to get from point to point.  I’ve seen teams lose races because of mistakes, so I took additional weekend classes to brush up on skills and learn new ones. 

Historically, navigation was a weakness for our team.  It was presented to me that I knew “just a bit more” about navigation and was asked to develop a navigation course for CoCoSAR. Then, with the depth of the team, suggestions by students and proctors, the class, and the result is that our collective skill as a team has just gotten better and better over the past five years.

JP: With a name like Search and Rescue, I always thought that after medical skills, your navigation skills had to be the second-most important item for a team member.  My passion comes from many years as a Boy Scout leader and many more years of being in the wilderness with groups of people in which I learned that good navigation will make the trek more enjoyable and with less drama.

In your experience, are some people just inherently better at navigation than others? How do people who don’t have an inherent sense of direction overcome this?

MS: Some are naturally better navigators than others, but there are a few things to make it easier. Pay attention to the everyday navigation tasks. Learn what your tendencies are and if they are correct or need to be tweaked.

JP: I do not think anyone is inherently better at navigation, only that some people are paying more attention navigating through their day and have more current route-finding skills.  The human brain is good at remembering a story and navigation is about the story of the trip you are about to take by reading a map. See Mark’s “The Six Steps to Becoming a Better Navigator.”

How has technology, like GPS, impacted our ability to navigate?

MS: GPS navigation is easy, plain and simple. We use it all the time in SAR work. GPS uses orbiting satellites to find your location on earth via calculating how long it takes for a radio signal to reach your receiver. You can carry a huge variety of maps in the palm of your hand. Whether you're hiking up a mountain or you're driving cross country with friends, it's much easier to look at a screen that shows exactly where you are than to puzzle out your course without technological aid. If you don’t understand the information it provides, it becomes only an expensive paperweight.

JP: GPS makes locating yourself and getting to locations much easier.  This is all well and good until the GPS device fails, and then it compounds most people’s problems for they now don’t have a map or were not paying attention to how they got where they are and do not know the route to their destination.  So orienteering skills are invaluable regardless of the tools you have.

What’s the biggest difference between CoCoSAR's basic and advanced land navigation classes?

MS: I personally believe focus should be on map-reading skills.  This is useful in maximizing both the GPS and compass. Unlike basic land navigation, advanced land navigation gives people the opportunity to get personal with primarily map and compass where detail is the key.  Mostly what we use in SAR provides an exact location in a UTM format. 

The GPS unit will let you know how much distance you've covered and how much further you have to go. It will even tell you your altitude.It can mark and retrieve location points or waypoints. This ease of use shouldn't be taken for granted, though, since if your GPS stops working you'll still be on the trail, road or out in the wilds. As such, you should have a back map or atlas and stay aware of your surroundings.

The downside of this is that these devices are still electronics, and as such are vulnerable to bad weather, rough handling and even electrical discharge, which can damage even the most modern system. They run on batteries (extra weight) and require good signal strength. GPS is a great tool, but it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses and compensate with other techniques.

JP: Basic land navigation is a team-building map exercise to navigate in a car using a Thomas Guide and on foot using topographic maps using the collective wisdom of the group.  These are primary skills for searchers to get to the search and find a subject.  Advanced land navigation is a simulated helicopter drop into the wilderness in which you are all alone with your map and compass skills to navigate a course.  It is the only SAR training in which the individual is NOT part of a team but is on their own using their brain and refined orientation skills.

Why are advanced navigation skills important for the search and rescue team member?

MS: Using a compass is less expensive, does not require electricity, but often requires a map. You need to learn a few skills in order to read a compass properly. Most people know they should always carry a compass, but do they all know how to actually use it? In my pack I carry a Garman Map 60CsX, a Silva Ranger compass, map and grid reader tool for redundancy and to resolve all possible limitations.

JP: As noted above, advanced land navigation is a simulated helicopter drop into the wilderness, which is a real situation MRG searchers face on a regular basis; thus these are skills you must have mastered.

In your experience teaching this class, what do students seem to have the most trepidation and/or confusion about? 

MS: The field portion of advanced land navigation because it’s the only time I know of that as a CoCoSAR team member you’re placed in situations alone, not in teams, not with a partner – no one! You are depending on your brain and skill to pass the class. This can be nerve-wracking for some students.

JP: Looking at a topographic map and visualizing what the terrain looks like and vice versa, seeing the terrain on the map to plan a route. They have the most confusion about how to operate a compass and GPS.

Which books or other resources do you recommend for team members to learn more/brush up on their skills?

MS: Resources are endless on the Internet.  All you need to do is use Google and you can be overwhelmed with information. Admittedly, some is dry and hard to process. I lean more to videos for brushing up on skills. A good book is Wilderness Navigation by Burns and Burns. 

JP: Mark did a good job addressing this already.

In your experience, how does navigation stack up as a perishable skill compared to, for instance, medical training? 

MS: Learning to read maps is critical. Often a good map and the ability to read it is all you need. Build a tool kit of skills and techniques, so you can draw upon and apply more helpful skills for the situation you may find yourself in. Like all perishable skills, practice is the key.

JP: Navigation is about as perishable as medical skills, although ironically you use your navigation skills every,day, but you’re usually on auto pilot, so you are not aware of the process.  The navigation machinery, such as topographic maps, compass use, and operating a GPS is like working with any software, i.e. if you don’t use it on a regular basis, you quickly forget how to make it work for you. 

What are the 3-5 things that you'd like to see every team member know and be confident about?

JP: At Type 3, how to read a topo map to plan and follow a route off streets; at Type 2, how to operate a GPS to record tracks and get to locations or coordinates; and at Type 1, how to figure out where you are and navigate in any kind of conditions and terrain.

For those curious about what the advanced land navigation day entails, below is a video of the 2013 class, produced by Mark Sembrat.

My Perspective: The DEH, ctd.

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“I forgot how hard the DEH is! The hike up is so hard on my heels that all I want to do is go downhill. Then going down the summit I realize that my heels don't hurt as much, but my knees want to give up. It is a great test for me, to see how much my body can take."
Lauren Thomas

The DEH is an effective measure of fitness for Type 1 participation. It represents the minimum level of fitness required for responding to Type 1 callouts. As challenging as it may be, it's a beautiful hike filled with expansive views, springtime wild flowers, and local wildlife.”
Mark Wilfer

“The DEH tests both mind and body. Physically, it gets easier the more I do it, but it’s still a mental challenge every time. Because of the mountain's natural beauty and weather conditions, it's a different hike on any given day. But what consistently makes it special for me is the encouragement and camaraderie of fellow team members. No matter what my conditioning level is, there are some who are faster and some who are slower, and it’s always gratifying to know that we look out for and support each other on the trail.”
Natalie Zensius

I think the hardest part of the DEH is understanding that it was necessary to make a "no running" rule.
Pierce Plam

“While the DEH is an opportunity for some people to show their amazing physical fitness levels, some use it to demonstrate their true team spirit. The latter was best exemplified for me when, in a SAR role reversal, my “coachee” Natalie Zensius took me under her wing and made sure I finished the hike, not only in time, but well under what is allotted. As she has far more hiking/backpacking savvy than I, she took the lead, encouraging me all the way with “You’re doing great!” This meant she had to hold back her drive to best her own time, but in the end, she still came in at her fastest pace while ensuring I succeeded, too. What a win-win!”
Wilma Murray

“This was one of my most memorable DEH hikes due to the weather, flowers and the fact I cut 25 minutes off my time! The cool cloudy weather really made the normally sun-drenched hike much easier and also perked up the flowers. I probably could have cut another five or 10 minutes off my time had I not had to stop for all the flower photos (this is only a third of the pics!). This hike saw one of the largest turnouts we've had and it's because we have a great team of dedicated people who like to see just how tough they can be!”
Todd Rogers

“The DEH is a challenging accomplishment and one that says "I'm there!" until the next challenge comes along because it’s only a milestone benchmark. Don't assume you can make up significant time going down after going up; going down has its moments – they’re just different. Overall, this hike opens up a whole new world, confidence, opportunity and a beginning.”
Larry Fong

“Avoid the doughnuts! Carrying an extra 20lbs for 11 miles and 3,000’+ altitude gain lets you know why you don't want to gain that extra weight! Is it tougher going up or coming down? Up is tough on the cardio system, down is hard on legs, feet, joints (plus, you have fatigue setting in). Survey says: coming down. As always, our proctors are awesome! Giving up a Sunday to shepherd the flock up and down the mountain truly reflects the SAR spirit.”
Pat Dodson

The DEH is a challenging but beautiful hike so I was anticipating it with both excitement and dread. It turned out to be a beautiful day for a hike. That and a new personal best time made it much more rewarding than dreadful.
Joe Keyser

On the day 14 team members and myself took on the DEH, it was at the beginning of a heat wave for the Bay Area. Even with an early start the heat filled the area as the Sun rose. My pride was garnered not by the successful completion of the event by 12 members but rather by the assistance each member rendered to or were ready to render to others:

  • Two explorers gave up their Sunday to help shepherd a fellow Team member up and back.
  • Two members aided a SAR hiker down the trail when she had far too many blisters for comfort, but still she made the time with their help.
  • Hikers that had completed early stayed in place ready to render aid, until all were accounted for and code 4.
  • A SAR Proctor stayed without hesitation with a fellow hiker that found this day hot and far too long (7+ hours).
  • And for one person that did not meet the time, she showed nothing but enthusiasm asking when would there be a next opportunity.

This was not a day of speed but rather heart.
John Banuelos

"My first DEH was a good test and I appreciated the support of a hiking partner, Claudia Langley, who had experience and knew the ups and downs of the route. And yes, bringing an extra pair of boots and socks (hiking and mountaineering) can come in handy for yourself or others!"
John Hubinger

The top of mountain is a long way up. But going down is harder. Slippery gravel roils with anticipation.
Don Kavanagh
 

My Perspective: The DEH (Diablo Endurance Hike)

photo_1By Joe Wilder

Today I awoke, excited to hike with SAR teammates. The weather was perfect and my spirits high. By 8 a.m., we had congregated and exchanged pleasantries. With packs weighed, we were off.

The crisp morning air filled my lungs with oxygen, welcoming us to the great outdoors. I began in fourth position, blissfully unaware of the slice of humble pie I was about to be served.

After 25 minutes, I felt at the top of my game; my muscles were loose, my lungs expanded, and my body was in a rhythm. A song entered my head, and my boots fell to the ground in a marching beat. 

Twenty-five minutes into the hike, I felt the beginnings of a blister forming and quickly fell back to number eight. Dropping my backpack, I removed the offending boot and abrasive socks, and searched for moleskin. Before I could locate my supply, a fellow teammate had handed me some from his personal stash (thank you!). After dressing my would-be wound and donning the detested boots, I was again continuing the ascent.

The first milestone
At the fire road crossing, I managed to regain a few positions. The wind howled from the southwest as I traversed the exposed ridge leading to the backside approach of the peak. The weather had turned from pleasant to cold and overcast and I considered stopping to dig out a jacket, but decided I had wasted enough time. My sweat-soaked shirt clung to me with freezing perspiration. I used the coldness to motivate myself to push harder and faster. Ignoring the blister pain, I climbed on, relishing the relief of flat or downward sections.

On the backside of the peak, I was grateful to be sheltered from wind, but the quiet calm quickly evaporated as I began ascending the opposing exposure. There I was met with cold wind and the occasional freezing droplets of water that might have been rainfall or moisture blown from tree limbs.

Upon reaching the summit road, my legs begged for a break, my heart thumped and my lungs protested. My mind was full of regret – not for hiking that day, but for not training.

As I made the final ascent, my thighs knotted up, first one, then the other. I rubbed and punched at them as I hiked. I willed them to stay loose despite the cold – my adversary. I continued climbing as team members zoomed by on their descent. The joy on their faces could not be contained, the toughest part of the day behind them.

I smiled, said hello, but on the inside I was mad – mad at myself for not keeping up, for not properly training, for dropping the ball, for letting my physical fitness stoop to such a level. I used this self-chastisement to propel me to the top.

At the summit
The peak was shrouded in cloud as the rain began to fall and wind picked up. Finally, I released the straps of my backpack and it fell to the cold, wet pavement. I slapped the rock building. I was thrilled to have the climbing behind me, but soon found that the downhill was even more torturous on my seizing legs. On the backside, I found a small patch of grass and fell to the ground. My legs screamed in agony and I contorted, giving rise to the saying “hurt so good.” While I stretched, I slipped into last place.

Consulting my watch, I willed my legs to continue to the single-track section where poison oak reached out with the kiss of agony. With each tug of my shirt or brush of the hat, I instinctively pivoted to determine if the offensive plant had made contact.

The temperature climbed as the sun broke through the clouds and moisture on the surrounding foliage began to evaporate. Flies and bees buzzed nearby. The sudden warm humidity was reminiscent of hiking the tropics, so I fantasized as I continued. 

Last place
The muscles in my legs quivered, threatening to give up. I forced my mind to ignore the protest. Every 30 seconds, I referenced my watch. There was plenty of time if I kept moving, but I couldn’t afford any more breaks, or allow my legs to quit.

My spirit lifted and pace quickened upon the sight of the eucalyptus trees marking the trailhead. I fired my after-burners with thoughts of an Epsom salt bath and an ice-cold beverage.

Finally, I passed through the gates, wishing there was a ribbon to break or spraying milk. My bag and boots were off before anyone had a chance to say hello. Under my socks, the blister was now a bloody mess.

Driving home, I contemplated the day’s events, not sure what hurt more, my legs or my pride. 

Forget about the DEH (Diablo Endurance Hike); we should rename this the DRC (Diablo Reality Check).