A Dee pilot was rewarded this week for taking to the skies in his private plane whenever called upon to aid search efforts on the ground.
Grant Porter received a meritorious service award from Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler at Tuesday's County Commission meeting. Wampler thanked Porter for years of volunteer dedication that had helped to save the lives of many outdoor recreationists.
"When we are on a search and have a need for an aerial platform, Grant is there for us every time," said Wampler.
In fact, Porter was on alert last Saturday when Pippa Brode, 22, of Portland, became lost in the Starvation Creek drainage during a solo hike from the top of Mt. Defiance. The local flyer was spared the trip when Brode was found shortly before dawn. Wampler said she used a cell phone a few minutes after 5 p.m. on Feb. 16 to relay her plight to a friend, who called Wampler for help. The friend happened to be a member of Search One, a metro-based canine unit that immediately offered its assistance.
Wampler said the two dog teams were given the go-ahead after four local searchers on snowmobiles spent several hours retracing Brode's steps down the mountain to the edge of the ravine she had entered. The canines and their handlers were then transported by snowmobile to that location and spent the next five hours combing the underbrush. They finally established voice contact with Brode about 5:45 a.m. on Sunday and reached her location a few minutes later. Wampler said she had brought only minimal supplies for a day hike and was hungry, cold and wet, but otherwise unharmed. He said Brode had been given instructions by Undersheriff Dwayne Troxel via cell phone about how to prepare for an overnight stay, including drawing warmth from her Golden Labrador, which had accompanied her on the trip.
"She started out being pretty panicky and afraid she would freeze to death overnight but once she knew help was on the way, she began to think about staying dry and keeping warm, and then she was able to turn her energies toward getting ready for the night," said Wampler.
According to Wampler, Brode aided her own rescue by carrying a communication device and thus having the ability to describe the actions she had taken prior to becoming lost and the fact that she had made it below the snow line.
He said Brode made several classic mistakes for a hike in the rugged terrain of the Gorge. Her first error, according to Wampler, was not anticipating the change in weather conditions between the lower level trailhead off Interstate 84, about 10 miles west of Hood River, and the summit of Mt. Defiance, which is about 4,000 feet in elevation. Wampler said that without adequate emergency supplies, she encountered the snow pack which hampered her travel on the 14-mile round-trip journey. To make up for that lost time, Wampler said Brode decided to follow a snowmobile trail downhill but then lost even more valuable daylight hours when she realized it was leading off to the east and would not take her toward the trailhead.
He said Brode then decided to bushwhack toward her previous trail but became disoriented in the snowy landscape and exhausted from the grueling passage. At that point, she decided to adhere to the old adage that she should follow a drainage because it would lead her toward a river and civilization. Wampler said the only problem with applying that scenario in the Gorge is that there are many waterfalls and almost vertical sides on the steep ravines, which are also laced with large trees that have toppled during a storm.
"Going down a draw is often going to put an end to your day because you're going to have to backtrack and then time is wasted," said Wampler.
He said Brode was found only about one-half mile from her destination point, but she was facing steep and rugged terrain for the homestretch.
"The most common reason we are called out for a search is because people tried to take another route back and then got stuck in one of these drainages," said Wampler.
He said hikers in snow zones where the landscape has been obscured should retrace their exact route downhill and always carry a flashlight, fire starter, food and shelter supplies so they are ready to spend the night in case of a mishap.
"If you get lost you need to stop moving and wait for us to come and get you," said Wampler.
Also on standby to assist in the hunt for Brode at first light on Sunday were Hood River's Crag Rats and Wind River Search and Rescue from Skamania County, Wash. Both Mid-Columbia search units will be training with other Northwest survival experts at the Washington State Search and Rescue Conference in mid-May. The annual training will be hosted this year by the Skamania County Sheriff's Office and will take place at the Wind River Nursery, eight miles northwest of Carson, Wash.