Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Emergency! Helicopter Airlift

Last Light, Last Night   8x8  O/L

On the morning we left our layover camp at Fern Glen, we were not supposed to paint.  We had fallen behind "schedule" and needed to get an early start on the river to make up some miles before reaching the last camp where we would spend the night before setting out for the out-take area on the Hualapai Indian Reservation near Diamond Creek.

All of us were packed up and ready to go when it became evident that Hugh was not feeling well at all.  Although he was brave and stoic, it was clear he needed help.  The crew floated the raft out to an area of the river where the canyon walls would interfere less with their satellite phone communication and contacted the Park Services requesting an airlift out of the canyon to somewhere he could receive  necessary medical care.

Once help had been reached, the crew organized most of the group to for a bucket brigade to carry water to pour on a flat area toward the entrance of the creek and as far from the rafts and camp as possible.   The water was poured to wet a large "landing area" and was intended was to minimize the amount of sand that would blow once the helicopter began to land and then to take off again.   Then two large reddish orange runners of plastic were placed in a big X formation in the center.


Because everything like this is triaged, and Hugh wasn't in immediate danger, the wait was a lot longer than any of us had anticipated.  I was so impressed by the entire group which rallied round Hugh and his wife, Nedra.  They set up an umbrella to keep him out of the scorching sun.  They sang to him.  Oh my goodness there were a group in this artist family who sing like angels.  They read stories and told tales of historical river rafters and their adventures, explorations and misadventures.  Mary, who was in a dance recital when when she returned, even demoed her part in the recital.  I'm not sure Hugh was able to enjoy any of it, but I know he appreciated the intent and the well-wishes.

HUGE canyon, tiny helicopter
All the while we waited, I was sizing up the canyon and wondering about how safe it would be to land a helicopter there on our make-shift landing pad.  We waited.  We sang.  We waited. We talked.  We waited.

Finally we heard the thump thump thump of the helicopter as it approached from far away.  He flew over, then circled around and approached the landing pad from the other direction.  To me, the most amazing thing about the whole rescue was how it made me realize how very, very tiny we all were in relation to the depth and width of the canyon. 

They took Hugh's vitals, suited him up in an orange fire-retardant jump suit, got the IVs in and whisked him off to the top of the canyon.  We found out later he was met by an ambulance at the South Rim which took him halfway back to Flagstaff.   He was then transferred to another ambulance which took him to the Flagstaff hospital.  Although he was in the hospital for a few days, he is happily fully recovered and back home now!!

Lava Falls Rapids
As soon as Hugh was transported, the rest of us climbed aboard the rafts and got started.  We didn't get off until very late and the crew was concerned about trying to find a camp close enough to the take out spot for our final night.

We were one person short, but we were on our way.  Almost immediately we were reminded that one of the biggest rapids of the river, Lava Falls rapids was coming up.  There is a huge chunk of lava called "Vulcan's Anvil" about a mile upstream that warns you of the upcoming falls and rapid. On the right you can see the brave "front runners"  on our raft..  From left to right you can see John Groesser, Ann Gores, (me on top), Hai-Ou Hou, Joyce Kent and Randy Cheap.   Apparently there are only two "falls" on the river and this was one of them.  

From its name, you can tell that this area is volcanic.  In fact at one point a giant volcano dammed up the river.  Its sudden collapse caused a catastrophic flood millions of years ago which, of course, changed the entire area downstream.  Lava Falls is a category 8-10 rapid with a drop from top to bottom of 13' according to my guidebook.

I hope you enjoy this short video of one of our last BIG rapid rides.

Of course we passed several smaller rapids during the rest of our trip each time gettting wet all over again.

We loved the beautiful scenery and the amazing natural formations such as Pumpkin Spring's travertine bowl pictured on the right.

It got later and later and each camp we passed was already settled with other river runners.  We were a bit worried about finding anything at all.  However we finally settled on a long narrow camp with a high sand dune which ran the whole length of the camp.  On each side of the long dune was about a 7 foot drop which had to be climbed to get to the river or to where many of us pitched our tents.  We had just a short time to paint before dinner.  I almost didn't because I was so tired, but decided to try a small one.

was my final painting of the trip.  I think it had more sand on it than paint because the whole time I was painting, the breeze was blowing sand across the dunes.
Debbie and Mary take a dip before
climbing back up the dune

That night we had a bon-fire and sang songs, told (bad) jokes and read stories.  It was a good night. 

The next morning we packed up, got on the boat and headed for our take out.  We did take one short hike up a canyon to see a rock formation Steiner described as mosaic before we ended the trip. 

After we unpacked all of our gear, we rode a bus up to the top of the canyon and then repacked into our original baggage so we could give Moki Mak, the wonderful river rafting company, back their dry bags.  Finally we got on another van-type bus and headed for Flagstaff.   I enjoyed a great conversation with John Groesser all the way back.

That night, some of us headed home, and others met at a Greek restaurant near our hotel for dinner.  There we saw bartenders spitting flames which was fun.  We had a great meal, drank, laughed and reminisced about a truly life-affirming adventure.

The people on this trip were phenomenal.  They are what made it so much more enjoyable than it already was.   Many thanks to each of them!!

Debbie Bilinsky, Mary and Phil Burkhardt, Randy Cheap, Cody De Long, Marian Fortunati, Ann Gores, John Groesser, Leslie and Warren Hancock, Kerri Hedden, Ruth Heffron, Bob Hoffman, Hai-Ou Hou, Joyce Kent, Cindy Loyd, Wanda and Kevin Macpherson, Mary McIntosh, Chris Magadini, Nedra and Hugh Smith, Robert Steele, Marty Wessler, and Steve Wilson
                                                      and the crew:  Steiner, Simone, Bruce and Owen

I tried to include as many links to the artists' work as I could in the hopes that you would visit and enjoy seeing their work. 

Thanks so much for visiting and for traveling along with me on this fabulous trip.


CrimsonLeaves said...

That has been a trip of a lifetime and one you will always treasure! Too bad your husband wasn't able to come along!

Marian Fortunati said...

I do wish he would have been there, but I know he would have not enjoyed anything about the trip except perhaps seeing the amazing scenery and talking with the fabulous people.

But for me... Yes.. it was the trip of a lifetime.

Heli Operations said...

A terrific blog and great paintings, thank you for sharing. Here at Heli Operations we work closely with the world's largest helicopter operations, predominantly in the maritime environment and Search and Rescue. We wish you and all your readers our very best.

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