Two-way communications capability of DeLorme inReach assured timely dispatch of appropriate resources and helicopter rescue.
Paul and Gail enjoying the Pacific Crest Trail earlier this year. The horses, Dakota and Aero, are beautiful Tennessee Walkers and specially trained by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department to stay calm in noisy and distracting environments.
Paul V. and his wife Gail have dreamed of riding the entire length of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail for several years. They had spent many hours researching all the gear they would need to take on the ride, personally conducting numerous evaluations to determine the perfect combination of the lightest weight, safest and most effective options. Knowing that the trail could be very dangerous in certain areas and that cell coverage would be intermittent, the couple chose to take an inReach with them in case they ran into any trouble.
“We planned for just about everything, but I didn’t realize how valuable my inReach was going to be,” said Paul. “If you’re going to be in a remote wilderness area, it’s wrong not to invest in something that will ensure that you can live to tell about it.”
On the morning of March 14, Paul and Gail were riding on an extremely narrow portion of the trail in the Angeles National Forest. The entire area was recovering from a forest fire, so there was very little foliage and the slopes and cliffs were prone to mudslides. Paul was in the lead and although his horse, Aero, lost its footing briefly, he made it safely through the narrowest part of the trail. When he looked back he realized that Gail and her horse, Dakota, did not. At just eight inches wide, the dangerous trail bordered a steep, 300-foot-deep canyon.
As Gail and Dakota began to slide down, she fell off the horse head-down onto her back. Dakota then fell onto her legs and bounced over her. They both continued to tumble down the embankment. There was nothing to break her fall on the burned out area, but she was finally able to grab hold of a root from a charred bush, about 100 feet below the trail. Dakota continued all the way to the bottom landing upside down, about 300 feet down.
Back up at the trail, Paul could hear Gail moaning, but he knew it was unsafe to go down the same slide area. The fall happened about 10 miles from the nearest road crossing and about one mile from an abandoned ranger station with a corral. “I started calling to Gail immediately but I couldn’t hear her answer. But before I could make my way down the slope to find her, I had to find a way to tie up my horse safely so he didn’t get spooked and go down the slide or wander off. With the forest having so recently burned, it was just about impossible to find anything to tie him up though,” Paul said.
Thinking that the corral at the ranger station may be his only hope, Paul crossed back over the precarious slide area. Thankfully, he found a relatively sturdy manzanita bush just on the other side and secured his horse. After walking about 50 feet further, Paul was eventually able to find a safe place to descend into the canyon to look for Gail.
“My worst fear was that she was under the horse at the bottom, so that’s where I headed first,” he said. The 1,200-pound horse had all kinds of debris under it, making it very difficult for Paul to determine that Gail must have fallen off further up the slope. Without any cell coverage, Paul activated the SOS on his inReach and set out looking for Gail.
Meanwhile, Gail had stopped moaning and began to call for Paul, but he couldn’t hear her. She had a whistle on her backpack and blew it, but Paul thought it was his inReach notifying him of an incoming message. So, she began to throw rocks into the air, hoping he would see them. Finally he found her, laying face down, holding onto the roots of the bush. She had suffered a broken leg, various bruises and lacerations, but she seemed to be unhurt otherwise. Unable to move her without causing her to slide further down, Paul found a rock that seemed sturdy about eight feet away and convinced her to let him move her to a safer place. Using his inReach, Paul began texting back and forth about Gail and Dakota’s conditions with GEOS personnel, DeLorme’s search and rescue monitoring partner. Once they both knew help was on the way, Paul headed back down the embankment to reach Dakota and attempt to assess his injuries.
While Gail was sitting there, in pain, she knew she had the means to do something for herself. She pulled the first aid kit from her backpack and hooked the various contents onto her body to keep them from falling. From her precarious position she was able to clean and bandageher abrasions. Within the hour, the rescue helicopter arrived and a fireman descended on a cable to retrieve her. Too slippery for him to even get a foothold, he secured a strap behind her back and asked her to hold on to him as they ascended the cable to the waiting aircraft. She was in the hospital about 90 minutes after the fall.
Surprisingly, the horse suffered only a fractured skull and was on its feet about three hours later, when a vet arrived to anesthetize it for the flight and determined that the injuries would heal. A second vet was waiting at the landing site to pull the horse out of anesthesia so he could stand and then be trailered to a local animal shelter, where it received the necessary stitches. The horse was released the next day to recuperate in familiar surroundings.
“inReach made all the difference in how quickly we got help,” Gail said.
Paul added, “We were in a very remote area and certainly had no cell phone coverage. We would have been missed when we didn’t arrive at our destination, but they probably would have waited a few extra hours before calling for help. By that time, it would have been dark and likely too late to dispatch a rescue crew. Gail might have survived on the side of the mountain — unless she gave up from sheer exhaustion trying to hang onto a bush. Dakota would never have made it. The outcome would certainly be very different, even having to wait overnight. inReach came through when we needed it.”
Paul says they plan to get back out on the trail in about six weeks when Gail has healed and feels ready. “We started this journey in January about 250 miles ago and are determined to finish it.” Paul said. “I’ve realized that the inReach is a lot like insurance — you put money into the system, but you don’t realize the value until you put in a claim. I know the full value of my inReach now and won’t be in the wilderness without it.”