Thursday, May 31, 2007

An answered prayer

A few years ago, Yosemite Search and Rescue got us out of a jam when I goofed up big-time on the east bank of the Merced river, near Mirror Meadow. Last weekend, we got to be part of the solution rather than part of a crisis. Here's how I experienced it.

About 5:30 Monday morning, May 28, we left the our hotel in Fish Camp and headed north into Yosemite National Park. Breezing through the south entrance, we arrived at the Taft Point parking area some 45 minutes later, and walked out toward "The Fissures."

These fissures are what they sound like -- cracks in the rocks that widen out to several feet across. You can look through them to the valley floor about 3,000 feet below. One of them has a couple of boulders stuck in it -- very cool.

A few hundred yards beyond The Fissures is Taft Point, with a breathtaking view of the valley. Jenny and Sarah were ahead of Carol and me, and I stopped to take a few pictures. When I arrived at the lookout, Carol was holding what looked like our long lost digital camera. It was the same model, but it wasn't our camera; its owner was a madman from the over-55 set, who was planning to run up Half-Dome Wednesday and walk up it Thursday. Actually he wasn't really a madman. I'll call him "Jack" (as in LaLanne).

Anyway, Carol had taken some pictures of/for Jack, and after he returned for his camera, he told us about an Asian family in the parking lot: an older couple and some young people. The 38-year-old daughter had gone for a walk last night and never came back, he said.

It didn't take much imagination to envision falling off a cliff, or into one of those fissures, in the dark. Jack told us that the family were already there at six that morning, and that a ranger had been out 'til something like two, trying to find "Carolyn." Jack himself had called out her name for the past hour, but no joy.

We walked back to the parking lot after a while. I won't say the trail is poorly marked, but it would be very easy to lose track of it if you were inexperienced, or if the light was bad, or both....

I was in a rush to get to the rest-room at the parking lot, but as I speed-walked, I prayed briefly. "Lord, have mercy on this woman and on her family. May she be safe -- perhaps she found shelter somewhere. Restore her to her family soon I pray."

I unloaded my camera stuff into the car, leaving it unlocked for the girls (a couple hundred yards behind me). I saw the family in the parking lot, but being in a rush I didn't say anything to them. What could I say, really?

When I came out, I saw Jenny on the trail in her tie-dyed T-shirt, walking toward the car. She was waving, and I met her at the car. She said someone had been calling for help from the left of the trail.

"Really?" I asked, starting to get excited. "Male or female?"

It sounded like a woman, she said. "Let's tell the ranger!" (By then, a ranger had arrived and was talking to the family. The Yosemite Search and Rescue crew wouldn't arrive for another few minutes.)

We trotted over to the family's car, and when the ranger turned to me, I said, "Um, my daughter reports someone just off the trail, calling for assistance; sounded like a woman." He said something into his walkie-talkie, shouldered his knapsack, and started walking "cross-country" to the point where the Taft Point trail entered the woods.

Right about then, a round-faced woman in a red jacket, wearing glasses, became visible, right where the ranger was headed. She was by then drinking from one of our Nalgene® 1-liter bottles. We reached her, and the ranger asked, "Are you Carolyn?"

Yes she was. I told her that I'd said a prayer for her. The ranger told his walkie-talkie that he found Carolyn, but I didn't think the family would have heard. So I jogged back to the parking lot.

Flashing a thumbs-up sign, I told them, "It's her and she's fine." The mother gave me a hug.

Anyway, the joy and relief were palpable.

It turned out that at least three of them had gone out together, before sunset. They watched the sunset but there was a minor detail: after sunset, the lighting conditions get a lot worse. Then Carolyn tripped and fell over. She wasn't injured, but they got separated. She was a little disoriented.

She called out many times, she got hoarse, nobody heard. Meanwhile she found a stream and headed upstream. This was just the right thing to do because downstream might have led to a cliff. Meanwhile the ranger, who had been out for a few hours around midnight, was heading downstream (he had a light, though). She heard the ranger (who had a whistle) but she couldn't make herself heard. It all ended well.

Afterwards, I thought, "O me of little faith!" I'd prayed, and maybe I had some faith (maybe just a little), but I was as surprised as anybody else when she actually turned up safe.

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