The two women set out for their hike on a Sunday. The forecast wasn't good, but maybe they were excited that the wind had finally scoured the smoke from the valley, and they decided to go for it, the 21 miles off trail through beautiful, open cirques and high valleys. Then the rain and lightning came in and they were gone, not at work on Monday, just vanished.
When people go missing on this route, sometimes they are not found for years. I had a feeling I knew where they were. A lake sparkles far below the route, looking like a good place to bail out if the weather gets bad or if you are too tired to continue. From up there, it looks like you can pick your way through the cliff bands and make it out, and you can, if you know where to go and you are careful. Other people have tried though; their bones were found long after the searches were over.
We are getting ready to launch two helicopters when the phone rings. Another helicopter has found them, using night vision and thermal imaging. They are injured and hypothermic, stranded in the cliffs, but alive. The helicopter hoists them out; we hear the ambulances as they race past us to the hospital. They will make it. We can stand down.
The crews scatter, fiddle with gear, go back to paperwork. We don't say a lot, but we all know: they are lucky. They probably wouldn't have survived another night. This is a good day.
|photo from nps.gov|