The Fresno County Search And Rescue Mountaineering Unit working with the leadership of the Jeepers and Sheriff’s Posse planned a search for the Dinkey Creek CA area. The search was initiated near Exchequer Meadow this weekend. Personnel from the Sheriff’s Office, The Sheriff’s Posse and the Jeep Unit worked with us on the search. It was great to have both meals and portable potties provided. This was a recovery follow-up of our original search for a hunter Robert Willis who went missing in November of 2008. Here is a recap of the original search from a mutual support team report from San Bernardino. http://search-rescue.us/joomla/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=299
I also had a chapter in my book http://www.amazon.com/Seeking-The-Lost-Stories-Search/dp/1613793855 about the search.
Anticipating a big group and tight parking near the Command Post in Exchequer Meadow, I drove up Friday night and found a place to park my truck. After sleeping there overnight, I made my way over to the cook tent and grabbed a cup of coffee to brace myself against the 37-degree morning air. We ate breakfast at 8am and were briefed by our officers at 9am.
The Posse and Jeepers had separate assignments but the Jeepers first transported ground team one and the ropes team to the drop off area above Exchequer Meadow. There was a plane in the sky to assist with radio communications and team members on a local peak had set up a repeater the day before.
We had to climb an additional 1,000’ to reach the area we were assigned to search. There is no easy route in this steep terrain. Up is difficult and down is punishing. At this point (about 8,000’) the five member ropes team and eleven member ground team parted ways. The ropes team would search some of the cliff areas and the ground team worked north to south in line with about a 25-foot spacing. There are problems with a steep side slope because it seems like one leg is quite a bit shorter than the other. The other problem is that once you are in the search area you have to go through whatever is in your path including logs, Manzanita, Buck Brush, and other obstructions. Gators are a lifesaver in this type of terrain.
We took a lunch break about 11:30am. There was one sweep where we simply “cliffed” out and had to drop below the cliff to continue our sweep. The footing was difficult and steep especially with pine needles on smooth granite. I only started out with 2 liters of water expecting to find a source on our search. It was not to be and Lance offered me an extra bottle that he had. He was my hero for the day.
We eventually ran out of time and followed a drainage back down to the road. It was a climb on the road back to our SAR vehicle but there our radios were able to reach the CP. Russ called for an extraction and a number of Jeepers showed up to get us back to the CP. We then downloaded our individual GPS routes.
This is about my 10th year on the Mountaineering Unit and each year the team has increased in size, skills, equipment and organization. I believe leadership is the main reason for this. I was so proud of the professionalism on display at this search. I am the oldest of the active ground unit searchers and welcome the young folks coming on board. Art Sallee remains the oldest member at 85 and provides excellent training for man tracking. The young people are mature and engaged. It was nice to see our SAR Lieutenant there who introduced new SAR deputies to the team. Her respect for the volunteers was evident. What a resource and blessing this team is for lost individuals. I can only imagine the hours and effort required to make this weekend a reality.
Thanks again to Russ, Martin, Rich and the other SAR team officers for such a skill and team building experience. Thanks to my other team members who give of themselves for the sake of others. Thanks also to the Sheriff’s Office, pilots, Jeepers, Posse and cooks for their involvement and support.