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Lost solo skier near Swampy Shelter, calls 911

Lost Solo Cross Country Skier near Swampy Lakes Shelter, rescued
Became disoriented, called for help
By Deschutes County Sheriffs SAR Unit
Date: February 10, 2015

Lost Cross Country Skier, Swampy Lakes Trail
On February 10, 2015 at about 3:20 pm, Deschutes County 911 received a call from a female (Sophia Thundercloud) requesting help as she had become disoriented and lost after having lunch at the Swede Shelter while skiing the Swampy Lakes trail system.

Deschutes County Search and Rescue dispatched 20 personnel, making up 1 command team, 3 Nordic Teams and Two Snowmobile teams. The AirLink Helicopter was also requested to assist with the search, but was unable to reach the area due to adverse weather. Ms. Thundercloud’s cell phone was “pinged” several times and an approximate location was determined.

At about 6:30 pm, one of the snowmobile teams encountered downed trees across the trail and was unable to continue on the machines. That team proceeded with the search on snow shoes and at approximately 7:00 pm, they located Ms. Thundercloud about 5-1/2 miles from the Swampy Lakes Snow Park. Ms. Thundercloud was in good health, just cold and tired. Ms. Thundercloud had ventured out without lighting but was dressed appropriately and did have fire making material and had started a small warming fire.

Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office SAR Volunteers were able to assist Ms. Thundercloud out - and get her home without further incident.

The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office would like to remind all Back Country users to prepare for changing weather, take a well charged cell phone and a GPS, water and other basic needs in case they encounter adverse conditions and need to be out in the weather for a prolonged period of time.


What can be learned from this interesting incident?

We have been unable to talk to the disoriented skier. Federal HIPPA privacy laws prevent medical personnel, including SAR Volunteer Units, from providing contact information for patients. If Ms. Sophia Thundercloud will contact us, we will correct any inaccuracies in our analysis. This is not a 'could-a, would-a, should-a exercise', but a traditional effort to help folks learn valuable lessons from the experiences of others.

Ms. Thundercloud called 911 at 3:20 pm when she realized that she was lost and that it would be dark soon on this cold dark winter afternoon. She was found at about 6:30 pm on a cold winter evening. She was only "somewhat prepared" for her solo ski adventure that day.

She was not traditionally "Prepared" for any winter adventure in the Wilderness near the foot of South Sister.  Read these traditional pages for some basic information about how to "Be Prepared" in 2015: Basic Responsibilities and the Ten Essential Systems. The SAR Report mentioned she had "the material to make a fire". Ms. Thundercloud was lucky to find "material to burn", usually impossible to find in our typical Wilderness winter months: it is frozen or wet , to big or buried under feet of snow.

The SAR Report focuses on her cell phone.

She did not have the available free Deschutes National Forest provided MAP available at every winter trail head, nor a $9.00 USGS topo map or equal. She did not carry a $25.00 declination adjusted COMPASS. Did she have the simple skills to use them? Did she have a simple GPS? A million Geochachers can't be smarter than folks cross country skiing near Bend Oregon!

What is that again? The right topo map, the right clear base-plate declination (15 degrees!) adjusted compass/protractor and an inexpensive (Garmin eTrex Venture HC) hand held GPS

Note that she used her cell phone to call 911 connecting to a SAR Incident Manager. SAR/911 used the FCC mandated ability of all cell phones today, to obtain callers geographic Coordinants by cell tower triangulation. Don't worry if you do not own a "smart phone" that has an expensive "GPS" map application, at extra cost each month.

Yes, (if your Cell Phone Provider actually has service in your adventure area), you can follow the SAR Incident Manager's instructions and your ordinary cell phone can take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue. Arrange a simple call back schedule with SAR. (Don't call your friends, listen to your tunes or post on Facebook until your phone dies before you are found! Yes that has happened - read more on this website!). An ordinary simple cell phone may be best for the backcountry.



Times have changed!

Note that Sophia Thundercloud was able to contact 911/SAR by cell phone when she realized that she was lost in the winter Wilderness. Cell towers now provide service to almost all of the Badlands in the last few years. If you can't connect, try walking to higher ground. Read More here:

Ordinary cell phone coverage has improved, year by year, to the time of this writing in 2014 - see below for "The Rest of the Story". Check your own cell coverage in your favorite backcountry areas. Much of the high desert and the Three Sisters Wilderness is covered by Verizon using CDMA code. The cell phones from other (urban) providers are not able to "see" CDMA towers and will not connect to towers despite sales claims of "Roaming" access.

Two cell tower connections are needed to enable the required "triangulation" to provide the FCC required geographic Coordinants to find a patient on a topo map. Talking with a SAR incident manager may be better than exact geographic Coordinants. A good cell phone signal with the right Provider can take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue.

Each person in a group should carry their own simple personal cell phone.


Map, compass and GPS together

Back country travelers should carry a base plate declination adjustable compass costing $25.00 a $7.00 topo map annotated with the UTM Geographic Coordinant Grid and simple current model Garmin GPS costing as little as $100.00.. A stranded person can take the search out of SAR by simply reading the UTM Geographic Coordinants to the Incident Commander over the cell phone. Consider a $100.00  SPOT-2 Satellite Messenger if cell phone towers may not cover the area you plan to explore.

Read below for some basic suggestions about how to Be Prepared in 2012. Basic Responsibilities and the Ten Essential Systems.

Google each one of these three search phrases from this page:    Best Compass for backcountry     Best topo maps for backcountry     Best GPS for backcountry use    Best cell phone for backcountry use

Millions of ordinary people world wide, use a common $100.00 hand held Garmin eTrex GPS with a topomap and color screen, for geocaching, hiking, hunting, cross country skiing, etc. Most GPS receivers have at least 14 hours of continuous life on two new batteries. Two extra AA batteries can be carried in a warm pants pocket to change out batteries weakened by cold. Lithium batteries withstand the cold much better than "regular" AA batteries.


The rest of the story

Deschutes County Sheriffs Search and Rescue Volunteer Coordinator Al Hornish, a 12 year veteran of DCSAR, stated the following in an interview published on January 26, 2012 in the Bend Oregon Source Weekly: "We have grown a lot over the past decade. The nature of missions has changed as well." "There are more Rescues and less Searches, mostly because of the better technology available." Read More. --Robert Speik, January 26, 2012.

"Wednesday, July 7, 2010, or nearly four months since my fall off Mount Temple. After so much time, there is much to dwell on. The negatives: the pain of so many fractures, the sleeplessness, the drugs and the messed up things they do to you. It’s easy to get stuck in the negative; yet some part of me is drawn there by some morbid fascination."

"How big am I then? Not very. I made a mistake, a pretty small mistake. Or more honestly, I made a series of pretty small mistakes. I almost died for these transgressions. I would have died if it had not been for a cell phone and the chain of events it was able to put into motion. (I’ve owned a cell phone for barely six years.) I might not have died that very day, March 25, 2010, but from where we were, we were a long, long way from the medical care my injuries demanded: a trained trauma surgeon in an Emergency Room. Perhaps I would have lasted one night. Maybe not. It changes my perspective about what a day means. Carpe diem no longer seems some frat-boy cry to party. Today, means everything." --Steve House


Here are some Basic suggestions for each backcountry traveler

1. Practice the Four Basic Responsibilities of the Backcountry Traveler. They work!  Basic Responsibilities

2. Carry the new Ten Essential Systems, sized for the forecast weather and the adventure in a light day pack. This includes a map, compass and GPS and the skills to use them. In the winter, this includes enough extra insulation and waterproof clothing to keep you dry and warm if you become stranded. In snow, you must have a shovel and insulating pad and the skills to make a shelter in the snow to avoid hypothermia and frost bite damage. It works!  Ten Essential Systems

3. Carry your fully charged digital cell phones and periodically check where they can communicate with any cell towers to assist authorities in triangulating your position from cell tower pings. (Most cell providers do not use internal cell phone GPS radio signals to locate customers under FCC E911 regulations - they use triangulation). Cold disables batteries. Use Lithium batteries all year around. If the weather is cold, carry the cell phone in a pants pocket near the femoral artery. Report your UTM NAD27 coordinates from your quad topo maps and you GPS, your condition, the conditions where you are and discuss your plans with SAR.  Ordinary Cell Phones   If you are adventurous and often may be out of cell tower range, carry a $100.00 SPOT.  SPOT-2 Satellite Messenger

4. Always stay found on your topo map and be aware of major land features. If visibility starts to wane, reconfirm your bearings with your map, compass and GPS and quickly return to a known location. A GPS is the only practical way for a trained individual to navigate in a whiteout or blowing snow.  Lost Mt Hood Climbers


A suggested minimum standard news advisory for all backcountry travelers!

"We would like to take this opportunity to ask our visitors to the backcountry of Oregon to Plan for the unexpected. Each person should dress for the forecast weather and take minimum extra clothing to provide protection from a drop in temperature and possible rain or snow storm or an unexpected cold wet night out. Each person should carry high carbohydrate snacks, two quarts of water or Gatorade, a topo map and declination adjusted base plate compass and an optional inexpensive GPS (and the skills to use them together). Each person who has a cell phone should carry their ordinary charged cell phone (from a service provider that has the best local backcountry coverage). An inexpensive SPOT-2 GPS Satellite Communicator is a good additional option for some. Each person should carry their selected items from the new 'Ten Essentials Systems' in a day pack sized for the individual, the trip, the season and the forecast weather."

"Visitors are reminded to tell a Responsible Person where they are going, where they plan to park, when they will be back and to make sure that person understands that they are relied upon to call 911 at a certain time if the backcountry traveler has not returned. Call 911 as soon as you become lost or stranded. You will not be charged. Do not try to find your way, becoming  benighted, exhausted, or worse yet - wet. Your ordinary cell phone call to 911 can take the 'Search' out of Search and Rescue."



"To provide information and instruction about world-wide basic to advanced alpine mountain climbing safety skills and gear, on and off trail hiking, scrambling and light and fast Leave No Trace backpacking techniques based on the foundation of an appreciation for the Stewardship of the Land, all illustrated through photographs and accounts of actual shared mountaineering adventures."

TraditionalMountaineering is founded on the premise that "He who knows naught, knows not that he knows naught", that exploring the hills and summitting peaks have dangers that are hidden to the un-informed and that these inherent risks can be in part, identified and mitigated by mentoring: information, training, wonderful gear, and knowledge gained through the experiences of others.

The value of TraditionalMountaineering to our Friends and Subscribers is the selectivity of the information we provide, and its relevance to introducing folks to informed hiking on the trail, exploring off the trail, mountain travel and Leave-no-Trace light-weight bivy and backpacking, technical travel over steep snow, rock and ice, technical glacier travel and a little technical rock climbing on the way to the summit. Whatever your capabilities and interests, there is a place for everyone in traditional alpine mountaineering.




Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can, only in part, be mitigated


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  About Alpine Mountaineering:
  The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
  Climbing Together
  Following the Leader
  The Mountaineers' Rope
  Basic Responsibilities       Cuatro Responsabiliades Basicas de Quienes Salen al Campo
  The Ten Essentials         Los Diez Sistemas Esenciales

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  Our Volunteer Leader Guidelines
  Sign-in Agreements, Waivers and Prospectus     This pdf form will need to be signed by you at the trail head
  Sample Prospectus    Make sure every leader tells you what the group is going to do; print a copy for your "responsible person"
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  Emergency and Incident Report Form    Copy and print this form. Carry two copies with your Essentials 
  Participant and Group First Aid Kit   
Print this form. Make up your own first aid essentials (kits) 

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  Map, Compass and GPS
Map, compass and GPS navigation training Noodle in The Badlands
BLM guidelines for Geocaching on public lands
Geocaching on Federal Forest Lands
OpEd - Geocaching should not be banned in the Badlands
Winter hiking in The Badlands WSA just east of Bend
Searching for the perfect gift
Geocaching: What's the cache?
Geocaching into the Canyon of the Deschutes
Can you catch the geocache?
Z21 covers Geocaching
Tour The Badlands with ONDA 
The art of not getting lost
Geocaching: the thrill of the hunt!
GPS in the news
A GPS and other outdoor gadgets make prized gifts
Wanna play?  Maps show you the way
Cooking the "navigation noodle"