National Parks Traveler podcast – correction – New Mexico is one of leading states for hypothermia
A couple weeks ago, Team BUSAR responded to assist NPS Rescue team in the evacuation of a stroke patient from Mt. LeConte. Fortunately, the rescue went smooth and Chuck is doing great! The life stories that we are intertwined with don’t always end well, so we love to hear happy endings.
We received the following notification from his wife and link to a post written by one of his party. With their permission, I am re-posting it here.
Hope you are well. My husband, Chuck Cocke, was rescued by NPS and BUSAR on the afternoon and evening of November 9th. Chuck had gone hiking with a group of friends from Christ Church in Charlotte. They hiked to the top of Mount Le Conte on Thursday, November 8th (a strenuous journey for anyone) and then the group stayed overnight at the lodging on the summit. Friday morning during breakfast people in the group noticed that Chuck didn’t seem like himself. Upon leaving the cabin where they were having breakfast, Chuck stumbled and fell; those around him noticed he seemed incoherent. Luckily, Stuart Garner was on the trip, he is an excellent pulmonary doctor. He had Chuck lay down on one of the beds and Stuart administered first aid and recognized the signs of a TIA, Transient ischemic attack, or commonly known as a mini-stroke.
Chuck eventually became stabilized but the question then was how to get Chuck down the mountain. That is where NPS and BUSAR came in. The team arrived about 3 p.m. that day and carried Chuck down the mountain on a gurney. That particular day it was foggy and raining and for three of the four hours during the decent, the team was in the pitch dark.
When they finally arrived at the base of the mountain, I was so grateful that I wanted to cry. It was such a heroic act on the part of people who didn’t know my husband. Chuck and I are so thankful for the effort of NPS and BUSAR. I am sending you the E devotion written by Matt Holcombe, our priest who was on the trip and also played a key role in the rescue. I’ve also cc:ed Matt in case you want to reach out to him. Matt’s words are very moving; many people have responded with love and gratitude for the work of your first responders.
Thank them for me for saving my husband’s life. We are both very grateful.
Nanelle Napp, Chuck Cocke’s wife
The answer caught me off-guard: “We can fly him off the mountain in a helicopter, take him down on horseback, or carry him down on a stretcher.” This is when I knew we were in trouble.
Last week a group of men from Christ Church and friends hiked to the top of Mount LeConte. After a grueling eight-mile hike we all finally reached the summit at 6,593 feet. Welcoming us, and hikers from across the world, was Mount LeConte Lodge, the highest guest lodge in the eastern United States. With no electricity or running water and the closest road six miles away, the hand-hewn log cabins are an appropriate escape from the high-tech world a mile below. After a hearty dinner, evening prayers, and a time of reflection on our hike’s theme — ‘Whose life are you living?’ — we retired to our cabins for a well-earned night of sleep.
The next morning we prepared for the six-mile hike down the other side of the mountain. We packed up our backpacks and shared a quick breakfast. This being our 11th annual hike, most of the 23 men knew what to expect. But everything was about to change. After breakfast I noticed someone helping Chuck Cocke walk to his cabin. I offered to help and immediately noticed the left side of Chuck’s body wasn’t moving. He wasn’t speaking clearly. His eyes were glazed over. He couldn’t hold his head up. We rushed him to a nearby cabin and laid him on one of the beds. Stuart Garner, the hike organizer and a gifted pulmonologist, appeared out of nowhere. Stuart checked for a wrist pulse and couldn’t find one. Stuart found a carotid artery pulse and the lodge staff was summoned for help. It appeared Chuck was having a stroke and we knew every minute was vital.
The next hour was a blur. After conferring with the National Park Service (NPS) the lodge staff gave us the options: “We can fly him off the mountain in a helicopter, take him down on horseback, or carry him down on a stretcher.” Unfortunately, due to weather conditions (50-foot visibility, rain and winds gusting to 20 knots), the helicopter option was eliminated. Due to Chuck’s condition, horseback was also not possible. He needed to be carried down the mountain. We felt defeated and I felt hopeless. I got in touch with Chuck’s wife and assured her we were doing everything we could. However, at that moment I wasn’t sure if Chuck was going to make it off the mountain alive.
Shortly after 8:00 PM we reached the bottom of the trail, where Chuck’s wife and an ambulance were waiting. They rushed Chuck to the hospital for a myriad of tests. All the tests came back negative and he was released the following day. The doctors don’t know what happened or how or why. Some may say it is a mystery, but I’d prefer to call it a blessing. A blessing that Chuck’s health was restored, a blessing for the strangers who helped Chuck, or perhaps the biggest blessing of the whole experience … Chuck doesn’t remember anything from the entire day.
Please join us tonight for Thanksgiving Eve Holy Eucharist at 7:30 PM in the Church.
Three years ago I was at a crux. I had resigned from my backcountry law enforcement ranger position, found out we were having a baby, and started planning our move to North Carolina. I remember reading a text from my MMA coach that he sent out to the team about training and priorities. I was in Florida on vacation, and he was right. I realized that I could no longer dedicate the time and energy to that sport, with new priorities entering my life. I left the gym, leaving part of me behind.
The same was true of my LE Ranger position. While I will never regret my decision to leave, there was a part of my soul that missed the most rewarding facet of that job…
Search and rescue.
I have been extremely fortunate to have a career filled with adventure, but there has only been one time in all those years that emotion has swept over me so strongly, I had to walk away.
Ten years ago, I was on a search for two off-trail hikers on the Spruce Flats Falls manway. I was just getting into the law enforcement division, but got teamed up with “Rambo” Ricky Varner who knew the area like the back of his hand. We located the couple, who were forced to spend the night out, and walked them out to Tremont.
There, patiently waiting, was their family, and what ensued was one of the most tender reunions I have witnessed. They don’t always end that way, but reuniting a family with their missing loved one will move the most calloused soul.
And so two years ago, fueled by a desire to be pushed by a group of hard-core guys, a penchant for the misery of off-trail rescues, and the aspiration to help others, I started recruiting a band of outdoor misfits to form an elite search and rescue team. Our mission would be simple. Prepare for the toughest missions the Smokies can offer..
With the promise of bad weather, long hours, no pay, and dangerous work, they started to trickle in one by one. First an adventurer racer, then a paddler and climber, then a helicopter pilot, a doctor, a flight medic, a Special Forces veteran, a neuroscientist, another wildlife ranger, and the list went on.
As diverse as the crew was, they all had in common the desire to help others in need and the ability to push themselves physically and mentally to build a professional team.
Every week for two years, in every weather condition, we have met at a local park to workout together, carrying our SAR packs and kettlebells, pushing the levels of fitness higher and suffering through grueling fitness standards. Every month, the team has assembled for some form of training, be it technical, swiftwater, tracking, land navigation, wilderness medical, rescue swimming, working with K-9 teams, or just a tough off-trail scramble.
Leaving the comfort of our homes and families to respond to missions, we have carried out patients on the icy Appalachian trail. Rigged up ropes to haul the injured hikers up to safety. Searched for a downed plane during hypothermia inducing weather. Assisted with joint technical rescue training. Responded to many calls only to get cancelled en route when the victim walked out. Searched the dark trails for a missing hikers. Assisted in the body recoveries of recent fatalities. And taken vacation days and cancelled personal plans to respond when called.
The team did all this, and more, to be an asset to the Search and Rescue operations of Great Smoky Mountain National Park and help those in need. The park is working constantly to overcome staffing and budget challenges. We hope to help them by pre-deploying on high volume weekends and holidays, which will reduce our response time and allow us to assist with the P-SAR (Preventative Search & Rescue) program.
The BUSAR Team is the finest group of professionals I have ever worked with. They are my friends, my mentors, my teammates, and they have helped fill that tribal void in my life. I am proud of all they have accomplished and all that they will going forward.
So today I am announcing our team website, Team BUSAR, and the exciting news that we got our non-profit status. For the last two years, except for three donors, we have paid for everything out of our own pocket. Our gear, our training, gas, meals, etc. We have done all that because we desire to help.
Now we are asking for your help.
With over 11 million visitors to the Smokies, there is a good chance that you or someone you care about may need help out there at sometime, so please consider helping us by the following:
To date, the BUSAR project has been one of the most fulfilling chapters in my life. This team would have never started without the hard work and dedication of those on the team and their support of their families. To all those involved, current and former, I give thanks.
Thanks to Chief Ranger Steve Kloster, who has been advising me since it’s formation, along with Jared St. Clair, TN District Ranger, who took over the SAR Coordinator role. Thanks also goes out to all the members of the Smokies Tech Rescue team, Kevin Moses and the cadre of B-TRTE for tech training, Chuck Hester of BLRI, and Brian Osgood and the BCRS crew for loaning us equipment for swiftwater training.
What was birthed two years ago, is now starting to stand on its own two feet. The feet wear muddy boots, the bodies are now hardened by countless workouts and training missions, and the spirit stands by waiting for the call and ready to help. The path ahead of us is clear, we are prepared, and ready for the journey. We invite all of you to join us in this mission to help others, by helping us…
Prepare for takeoff…
Cobrathon – We created a land navigation course over at the BigPig Outdoor’s training site. Each leg of the course has a skill associated with search & rescue, medical, survival, tracking, or fitness once you make it to your objective, like the “5 minute fire” or “5 minute shelter” challenges.
Survival 101 – BUSAR’s own, Dusken Sledge, spent his time in the creek and completed the Survival 101 course.
Smokies Tech Team – Focused on patient packaging and prepping for interagency training later in the month
Interagency Training – BUSAR joined the National Park Service, TN Army National Guard, and TN State Parks for a three day training event at Pickett State Park and Obed WSR. We worked on high angle rescue, tech skills, and swiftwater rescue.
Team Workouts – Borkowski returned from New Mexico, so we welcomed him back with a 60 pound sandbag carry for the night in addition to his kettlebell and pack.
Cobra Lair Demo Workout – Several guys came up to help demo some walls for our future build. Armed with only sledgehammers, wheelbarrows, and testosterone, we had a great workout.
Johnathan Dobbins, Steven White, and Shawn Hood, of South Carolina for legitimizing my lesson plans. Poor planning, poor gear selection, and poor skills almost bought them a ticket to “Land of Frozen Corpses”.
To summarize, these three hikers started up the steep “Shuckstack” section of the Appalachian Trail in the rain, while a cold front was approaching from the west. Heavy packs, cotton clothing, and the five mile uphill slog took it’s toll, so by the time the snow started falling the men were exhausted and four miles away from the nearest shelter. Planning on staying in the AT shelters, the men had no emergency bivouac gear and had to use their sleeping bags to rig up a shelter and a propane torch to burn anything they could, including their extra clothes for warmth.
Here is their story and a great first person account on video: http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20140104/NEWS01/301040024/Rangers-rescue-stranded-hikers-Smokies
We all learn from mistakes, and I have made my fair share. I started to pick apart their ordeal, piece by piece, but instead have chosen to narrow it down to three simple points to better prepare yourself:
1. Train and prepare for injury. In this case, hypothermia and potential frostbite were the “Main Event”.
2. Train and prepare to be caught out in inclement weather overnight, with minimal gear. Rescue efforts were initiated when they made the call at 1800. The responding Rangers were not able to reach the trio until 0830 the following morning. If they had not been able to use their cell phone, the story would have taken a somber turn.
3. Train for an immersion/saturation scenario. Having your clothing completely soaked in cold weather, whether it is from sweat, rain, or falling in a creek, is a serious threat to your safety.
In hindsight, following the above plan would have taught the trio about proper planning, gear selection, and the skills needed to overcome those challenges.
Ready to learn? January and February Survival 101 classes are filling up. Call or sign up now.