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Recent TRSAR Missions - YBar-Barnhardt Trail

Part One of Four
(Scroll down for parts two, three & four)

Official YBar Mission Report

Members Responding:
Dave Pirtle
Hal Baas
Kathy Baas
Ira Gibel
Bob Edwards
Bill Pitterle
Ron Crimmins

Page out for overdue hikers at approximately 11:30PM Friday night, 03/17/06.

Two hikers reported overdue by the spouse of one of the hikers. She reported they had taken the trail to Y-Bar basin from the Barnhardt trailhead, and had only intended to make a day hike – no overnight gear. One subject was 78 years old, the other subject 44. GCSO located their vehicle at the trailhead.

Sgt Hudgens called Phoenix Ranger to make a couple of passes looking for lights or any other indication of the hikers. Ranger made a couple of passes over the proposed route, but did not locate anything.

Dave Pirtle located two sets of tracks heading south on the Shake Tree trail. One of the prints matched a print near the vehicle.

Bill Pitterle, Bob Edwards, Hal Baas, Kathy Baas, and Ira Gibel started south on the Shake Tree trail at around 1:30AM. The trail is becoming somewhat overgrown due to less use since the Willow fire. Farther up trail, it is becoming increasingly washed out and difficult to follow due to excess runoff. Because of a fairly bright moon, it was easier to see the outline of the trail in the moonlight, so for a couple of hours we hiked with minimal lights – enough lights that the subjects might be able to see us. Approximately every ¼ mile or so when we could find a good track trap we stopped to make sure we still had the same two sets of tracks heading up the trail, and none coming back. There are two significant trail washouts that we checked carefully, but there were still no tracks coming back. At each stop we called out the names of the subjects.

By around 4:00AM, and about 3 miles in, we were getting higher in elevation, the winds were picking up, and it looked like the storm that was predicted was starting to roll in. We were starting to turn the corner towards Y-Bar saddle and radio communications was getting more difficult. I checked to make sure we had enough emergency bivy gear amongst us because this was beginning to look like a long trip. Shortly after this, while searching for the next track trap, we heard a yell from the opposite side of Shake Tree canyon. Our subjects had spotted our lights.

Myself and Bob Edwards went down into the canyon and met the subjects and brought them up to the trail. They had no lights, and were off trail. They had continued to try to hike all night, possibly due to the cold as it was in the 30’s with a wind blowing. Ernst (the 78 year old) had fallen earlier in the evening and lost his pack, hiking poles, and glasses. His partner was unable to find them, so Ernst was hiking in the dark and unable to see very well.

We made sure they had enough water, food, and were warm enough, and they assured us they could hike out. At one place where we could have landed a helicopter, I check to make sure they still felt they could hike out, and gave them the option of a helicopter ride out. They both assured us they could make it out. It was a long, slow, trip due to Ernst eyesight issues, and we had to help him navigate several difficult areas on the trail including some trail washouts, but we made it back to the trailhead at 8:30 AM.

Mission Analysis:

These subjects climbed Mazatzal Peak during the day. I don’t believe their intent to climb the peak was conveyed to GCSO. That could have created a number of different possibilities for search. They were following the Falcon Guide hike (#42) which actually has them climb the peak via Y-Bar saddle, but descend via Suicide Ridge. Due to deep snow and cold winds on top they opted to descend by the same route they climbed up. On the way down they missed the trail which is pretty washed out, and continued down the wrong side of Shake Tree canyon. It is very fortunate that we found them when we did, for had they continued down Shake Tree canyon and out of range of our lights and calls, they might have gone missing for much longer, possibly even out of the search boundaries of the helicopter when it arrived on scene in the morning. We probably would have had the helicopter continue searching in the vicinity of the Shake Tree and Y-Bar trails since that was their stated intent and that was where their tracks went. It is very likely that we would have missed where they crossed the trail on the way down from the peak since it is very rocky and track traps were few and far between. We did not get up to the point where they left the trail to scramble up the ridge to the peak. Eventually, we would have found tracks heading up and down.

The other possibility that could have been a problem is if they had hiked down Suicide Ridge per the guidebook. It may have been a long time before we sent a team or helicopter up on top of the ridge, since that wasn’t part of the plan conveyed to us, and since we had a good set of tracks going around the south side of the mountain. The route documented in the guidebook is something to keep in mind the next time we have a search in this area.

Part Two of Four

Payson Roundup Article


Even experienced hikers get lost

By Carol La Valley, Roundup staff reporter

Friday, March 24, 2006

Even experienced hikers can do everything right and still get lost.


File photo

The Barnhardt Trail is a popular hike about 10 miles south of Payson.

Tonto Rim Search and Rescue (TRSAR) responded to a call to look for two overdue Barnhardt Trail hikers around 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 17.

Two hours later, under a nearly full moon and light cloud cover, rescuers headed down the trailhead looking for Ernst Bauer, 78, and Michael Altman, 45.

"They did the most important thing right," said TRSAR member Kathy Baas. "They let someone know where they were going and then they actually went there."

"We actually turned off our lights for quite a bit of the hike because it was easier to see the contours in the trail," said TRSAR member Bill Pitterle. "The trail becomes a little bit more defined in even light. When you shine a light on it, it sometimes becomes kind of faded out there."

Three hours and three-and-a-half miles later they located Bauer and Altman.

"They climbed Mazatzal Peak, and on the way down they missed the trail in an area that is becoming increasingly washed out due to excessive runoff caused by the Willow Fire," Pitterle said. "Some hikers lost the trail in the same area last fall."

Bauer is certainly grateful for the TRSAR team.

"Although we would have managed by ourselves to return, it would have been much later and in complete exhaustion," Bauer wrote in an e-mail.

"The help of (TRSAR) was really greatly appreciated; in particular, that they went on the search during the night."

Bauer was uninjured and was able to return to work Monday.

He had been carrying a backpack with a camera, but he lost it in a fall. He also lost his glasses, making navigation of the terrain even more difficult.

Had he still had the camera they could have use the flash to signal the search helicopter.

"A photo flash really stands out in the dark," said TRSAR member Hal Baas. "A phone that takes pictures with a flash is something hikers might not think of that can also be used in this kind of situation."

Noting Bauer's lost backpack, Baas advises hikers to carry a few crucial survival items on their person.

"During an accident you can get separated from backpacks and fanny packs," he said.

Always carry more water than you think you are going to need because the Arizona wilderness is unforgiving and dry, he said, and layering clothes is key.

"Things do happen unexpectedly even to people who know what they are doing and are prepared," Baas said.

Bauer wrote, "It was a good lesson for the future and I certainly will not give up the mountains. I have spent all my spare time in them, ranging from Paine (Patagonia) to Mt. McKinley (in Alaska), from Matterhorn to Mt. Fuji, and plan to climb them as long my knees allow it."

"I'm an experienced hiker and I've been lost, too," said Pitterle, who has been hiking since he was a child. "It's one of the reasons I do search and rescue."

TRSAR meetings

Tonto Rim Search and Rescue meets at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month in the meeting room at the Public Library. Anyone who would like to join the group is welcome. Volunteers do not need to hike. When there is an emergency, TRSAR needs people to make phone calls. There are fund-raising and many other activities and ways to make a contribution of time.

Part Three of Four


Dear Bill, Hal, Kathy, Ira, Bob, Sgt Hudgens, Deputy Cronk, Dave Pirtle, Ron Crimmins
(have I left anybody out?)

I am one of the lucky fellows that you rescued from Mazatzal on Saturday (18.03) morning. Thank you all for your concern and effort to bring us back safely. Although the cuts from the sticker bushes are quickly fading from my skin, it is an experience that won't fade from my memory. When we saw the helicopter passing overhead, I knew that the rescue machinery was in motion, that you knew where we were and that we would have a good chance of being spotted when the sun was up. It was a total surprise to see your lights bouncing from the trail overhead at 4:30 am. I realize now that search-and-rescue people are really a seriously dedicated group. I am particularly grateful that you were so kind when you got us out, although I knew that we had something coming. It is said that the best lessons are learned by making mistakes. Fortunately, this lesson did not result in any irreversible consequences, although it easily could have. Thanks again and sorry for the trouble that we caused.

Best  regards
Mike Altman


Part Four of Four

Letter to the editor of the Payson Roundup

Proud to be a member of Search and Rescue
Friday, March 31, 2006


On Saturday night, March 18 about 11:30 p.m., my Tonto Rim Search and Rescue beeper went off, indicating a search for overdue hikers at the Barnhardt Trail.

After waking up and getting my gear, water, gps, etc., I left Pine for a trip to the Barnhardt trail, just past Rye.

Seven SAR members responded to the callout, from the Sheriff's Office, and we were able to locate a track from the only car left at the trailhead.

Two hikers, one who was 44 and the other 78 years old, were overdue and we prepared to find them.

Our group split up and five of us started hiking on one trail at 1:30 a.m. and followed the tracks about 3.5 miles over some rough terrain and some washed out trails.

At about 4:30 a.m., we located the subjects off trail in a rugged canyon and after giving them some water and energy bars, offered them the option of a helicopter removal or walking out on their own.

They decided to walk out, and we arrived at the trailhead about 8:30 a.m.

All arrived safely, but as tired as I was, the determination of the 78-year-old really amazed me and the other squad members.

Sgt. Terry Hudgens from the Sheriff's Office and Rodney Cronk coordinated our efforts. Other squad members included: SAR commander Bill Pitterle, Dave Pirtle, Ron Crimmins, Kathy and Hal Baas and Bob Edwards.

It took a lot of effort and dedication for the seven mile, seven hour hike, and I applaud all of our members and the Sheriff's Office and their expertise for all involved in the rescue.

Ira Gibel, Pine

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