BY JOY SULLIVAN
Todd Quincy stood on the banks of the creek, staring down at his 2011 Arctic Cat F6 submerged beneath the icy water. He couldn’t dispute his lack of commitment to the throttle. He knew he was cold, maybe so cold he couldn’t even feel it anymore. He listened intently for the familiar sound of a snowmachine, his brother-in-law had went to find their group a while ago, where was he? He glanced at his pack, full of useful tools for his survival…but just like Todd it had gotten dunked. All he could do was wait, and unfortunately the more time that passed the more his body temperature had the potential to drop putting him closer to the danger of hypothermia. A beautiful “braaaap” from a distance sliced through his thoughts, help was on the way.
It was a sunny bluebird day in Johnson Pass that Sunday. Alaska had been stingy with her snow all winter so a recent dumping had inspired pro riders Carly Davis, Leif Hagen, Cary Shiflea, Brad Johnson, and Joey Dowd to get out make up for lost time. Along with them was Josh Skoglund of JGS Concepts to capture the day on film. The team had a productive shoot and found a spot at the bottom of a ravine to wind down before calling it a day. As they were sitting there a guy blew past them on his snowmachine, and began climbing the ravine. They all watched as he made his ascent, just as he was near the top something went wrong and the rider parted ways with his sled. The crew watched as sled toppled down the ravine with it’s owner chasing behind it. His efforts to save his machine from crashing into the forest of alders below was futile
Noticing he was solo, Brad Johnson and Leif Hagen went up to see if he was okay or if he needed help. The alders had taken his sled captive, the only way to free it was to cut it out with a handheld saw, something the guy didn’t have. Brad offered to help get him out but he was more concerned with his brother-in-law who had botched a creek crossing a ways back and was in dire straits. He asked Brad and Leif to go and help his brother instead, so they left him with a saw to battle the alders alone and hightailed it to the creek.
Now it’s not everyday that a team of professional riders and a film crew come to your rescue, but that is exactly what happened that day to Todd Quincy. Luckily for Todd he couldn’t have asked for a better group of people. Upon arrival they were able to take immediate action. Johnson set to work cutting firewood and starting a fire while the rest of the team pulled Todd’s sled out of the creek and set to work on draining the water out of it. For about an hour they dried out both Todd and his sled. Eventually Todd’s brother-in-law showed up and they were able to get the sled put back together and surprisingly they were able to ride it out and meet their party who was waiting for them in the parking lot.
Although this story isn’t chock full of suspense and drama, there are important lessons to take away from Todd’s experience in the mountains that day. Johnson, who is no stranger to how dangerous snowmachining can be, having experienced his own survival story two years ago when a snowmachine wreck broke his back, put an emphasis on keeping your group together. Todd’s situation could have escalated to life threatening very quickly, hypothermia sets in when your body temperature reaches or goes below 95 degrees.
When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can’t work correctly, and if left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to complete failure of your heart or lungs and results in death. If all six people that had started off the day with Todd had been there, they would have been able to assist him in getting his sled out of the creek and getting him warm and back to the parking lot. In this situation Todd and his riding buddy couldn’t get the sled out of the creek and were forced to split up to look for help, had Brad and his crew not been there to witness Todd’s friend’s wreck there is no telling how long Todd would have been exposed to the elements. Brad emphasized that keeping what’s in your pack in waterproof bags is key, what good is fire starter and dry clothes if you submerge yourself in water? Todd wasn’t ill prepared but his gear was soaked and unusable to him. Nobody thinks that their day of riding is going to end up in disaster but you should always prepare for the worst.
North Road Productions, a local nonprofit organization that specializes in riding safety, offers some suggestions for preparedness in the backcountry. Your pack should always have the following: basic med kit, SAM splint, fire starter, waterproof matches, lighter, whistle, handheld saw, heatsheets emergency bivvy, flashlight or headlamp, Leatherman, water, high-energy snacks, wool socks, and extra gloves. All items should be in waterproof containers or dry bags. Ride with an avalanche pack, beacon, probe and shovel.
If at all possible, a SPOT is also recommended. Keep your group together, and have a plan prior to leaving the parking lot in the event of an emergency. It’s important who you choose to ride with; essentially you are trusting them with your life and you take responsibility for theirs. Never underestimate the fickle mood swings of Mother Nature and never overestimate human nature. You never know when you might find yourself up a creek without a paddle.