It’s an uncomfortable fact that not everyone lost is later found. Sometimes the mystery lingers.
Retiring from work didn’t mean I was retiring from life so, in an effort to both be busy with other humans and contribute to my new neighborhood, I joined the local Search and Rescue. This isn’t the fire department, it’s a separate group under the umbrella of the county sheriff’s office. It does just what the name implies. Its volunteers respond in a county the size of the state of Connecticut to missing/injured people: in water, on mountains or in the back country.
Near the end of last week, a man in his late seventies went hiking into a lonely portion of Glacier National Park. He was an amateur photographer. A trail camera had caught him walking in. He had yet to walk out.
The Park Service took the lead organizing the search since the incident happened in Glacier. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence. In 2017 search and rescue teams were deployed 3,453 times in National Parks. Before you blame us old guys, the age group most likely to need assistance are males 20-29 years old.
The day we searched was chilly and rainy. There is nowhere short of outside a submarine that is wetter than the forest on a rainy day. Everywhere you walk is wet. Everything you touch rains down on you. Trudging along I discovered my waterproof boots aren’t.
I wasn’t alone. There were about twenty of us in the search group. The day before a helicopter had been out with infrared cameras. They wouldn’t fly this day as the clouds were lower than the mountain tops. We had dogs though. Three highly trained and very active animals trained to find the lost, or the dead.
We searched through dense woods. We searched through meadows with waist high grass. It dawned on me that I could probably walk within feet of a prone person and never see them. We all searched anyway.
I wondered during the day. When he reached the meadow did he turn right or left? Did he go off trail following a potential photo subject? Why did he start onto the trail alone so late in the day in an area known for bears and wolves? It was after five PM when the camera caught him walking in. I wondered these things as I walked on looking left and right.
By five o’clock on my search day the group was tired and wet. Even the dogs looked tired. Dark clouds were enveloping the mountain tops and thunder was rattling through the valley. The Ranger in charge called it for the day. Other search groups would be out tomorrow.
The next day, in the same fields that had been gridded and searched the previous three days, the hiker was found. He was dead. I don’t know the whole story. What happened? Perhaps we’ll never have answers to the many questions.
Why do people do things that seem so illogical in retrospect? Who among us hasn’t done something and then wondered, ‘how did I get out of that one’?
Like searching and finding, searching and rescuing are not guaranteed.