28 December 2010

Ski Days 6 & 7: Routine at Timberline, Outback After Dark at Ski Bowl

Holidays got me slackin', y'all. I patrolled at Timberline back on the 18th, and aside from some confusion during sweep, it was largely unremarkable. Just a regular patrol day for me, no hill-captaining. The only thing out of the ordinary was that I got to give another one-off tryout. This time, one of our associate patrollers who wants to learn the art of toboggan-handling and become a hill patroller needed a ski test. I spent a shift in the first aid room early in the day, then took the associate out for some ski drills to see if she had the skills to make it in the hill training program. She skied pretty well, so there's one more candidate for toboggan training this season.

After Christmas, I like to take the week off and patrol a couple of midweek days. The weather is usually better than on the weekends, so I figure the patrol days will be good ones. Yesterday was forecast to be snow showers all day, and that's pretty much what we got. I was hill captain, and my crew consisted of a good group of folks who I've patrolled with before, plus a couple newer faces - including one of my D-team guys from last season.

We were a little understaffed, but we made it work. We had one patroller pretty much camp out at the first aid room, but we made sure she wasn't stuck there all day. There was a lot of fresh snow, so opening assignments took a little longer than usual. I think it was close to 10:30 by the time we hit all the tower pads, rope lines, and other stuff.

One of the off-duty pro patrollers caught up to me in line at the bottom of the upper bowl lift and asked if I'd get someone to re-fill one of the 5-gallon water jugs up at Rescue Center. Seeing as everyone else was busy, I decided to do that myself. I strapped the empty jug to my pack, and set off down Skyline, since this was still early in the day and nobody had checked the rope lines down there. I should have had someone take a picture of me with that water jug on my back. I imagine it looked ridiculous.

I got it re-filled and headed back up. 5 gallons of water in one of those water-cooler type bottles is unwieldy at best, but I managed to get it back up to RC. Thankfully, I ran into another off-duty patroller - this time, one of our volunteers - at the bottom of the upper bowl chair, and he took my pack and poles to make it easier on me. We had a good chat about how things were going, and I pretty much ended up spending the bulk of the middle of the day manning the radio at RC. I snuck out for a couple runs in the fresh stuff once we had a couple more folks up there. The snow was really excellent in the upper bowl, and it felt good to finally make some turns for myself.

After getting in a little tree patrol in upper bowl, I went back in to RC to organize the Outback sweep. The original plan was that I'd stay in RC and man the radio until we were relieved by the night crew. That fell apart pretty rapidly, as we got a call literally in the same minute the sweep team started out the door. After a brief discussion, I decided that since we would need to take a Cascade 350 out there (one of the 4-handled toboggans), and I was the most experienced with the 350, that I would go. I took my D-teamer with me, and I took the tail of the sled, since running the 350 in the front isn't all that different from the regular 2-handled toboggans.

We got to the patient, who had a knee injury, just near the 5 Lakes Basin sign in the outback. I had my driver flatten out a spot for the toboggan, and decided I would keep it in place. One of the sweep team came by to help my driver splint the patient and load him into the toboggan. Once my driver was ready, we started off, with the goal of getting to the traverse we could see in front of us. I knew that if we could stay high enough, we could make the traverse, and it would empty us out onto Bob Strand's Downhill, which would likely be a much easier route than taking the toboggan all the way down to the Log Road. The Log Road sounded like it was a nasty trip down, so we wanted no part of that.

But we couldn't cut up high enough to make the traverse. I knew we could get down to Kelly's Cut, which empties out onto the bottom of Downhill, kind of on the low side of Powder Keg. We headed down Upper Cutoff, and onto Kelly's Cut.

Kelly's Cut isn't exactly a good trail to take a toboggan on. It's a really narrow traverse, and not really much of it is downhill. In fact, the parts that aren't flat are kind of uphill. We were making really slow progress, and I got to thinking we could use another patroller to help move things along. I had radioed for help, and the pro patroller I spoke with kept insisting that I was taking the wrong path, and that I would end up being stuck on the cliff band that separates the main part of upper bowl from the outback. I was pretty sure we were in fact on Kelly's Cut, but the seed of doubt had been planted.

Some poachers almost hit us as we were trying to figure out exactly where we were and how best to continue. Some of our sweep team managed to catch up to us, so we had them help out for a bit. One of them took the handles of the toboggan, and we sent the other one to scout ahead to make sure we were going to end up where I thought we would. I was really dreading having to figure out how to turn the toboggan around and get down the fall line and down to the Log Road. If we were where I thought we were, then doing so *would* have stranded us on that cliff band. I decided to press on, but progress was dreadfully slow.

It was starting to get a little dark, and after having my first driver dig out a little bit of the trail for us, I could see we weren't too far from the lights of the upper bowl, so my confidence grew a little bit. Once our scout radioed back that we were in fact on the right track, I was feeling a lot better about getting the patient out of the outback safely. In the meantime, one of the other pro patrollers was making his way to us to help out. We tried to signal him with whistles, but he couldn't hear us. I told him the path we had taken, and he finally saw the toboggan tracks and found us - on Kelly's Cut, exactly where I thought we were.

After more digging, pushing, and pulling, we reached the corner where we could see the lights and the chairlift in the upper bowl. Once we got around to Powder Keg, the pro patroller took the front handles, and I stayed on the back. We were literally and figuratively not out of the woods yet, but he and I quickly picked out a route through the trees on Powder Keg and then finally onto Dog Leg. We paused a bit to catch our breath, then headed on down. Some of the sweep team had waited at the bottom of Fire Hydrant, and I was very happy to finally be almost at the bottom.

We got down there, and the pro patrollers towed us in the rest of the way, up to the first aid room, via snowmobile. Thankfully, they took over the case from there, handling all the paperwork and stuff. The patient was a real trooper through it all, and was very appreciative of the effort to get him off the hill, even apologizing for getting hurt out there. We gave him the usual "no need to apologize, it's our job..." lines, and after a quick hand-off of the case to the pro patrol, we headed off to the Palace.

We started the case somewhere around 3:30, when sweep began, and I think it was about 6:15 by the time we arrived at the Palace. What a long day. Beers and cheers, then paperwork and getting all the radios and transceivers turned in and locked up.

And I'm going back up to patrol again tomorrow.