Sunday, September 4, 2011

Wanaka Search and Rescue, improvisation and some background on both

Last Sunday a week ago, my phone rang early: Wanaka Search and Rescue ringing around for people to search the Gillespie Pass route in Mt Aspiring National Park. Specifically the Wilken and Young valleys for a missing tramper.

That person was found quite quickly, but in dire straits in the Kieran Forks / Siberia gorge, on the wrong side of the river, and with food poisoning. The adventure seemed to contain ideas of floating down said gorge after crossing the pass, and was probably ill thought out for not only any time, but especially this time of year. The crossing alone demands skills and judgement of an alpine nature. [see one of my previous posts re nearby Cascade Saddle for tips on how to do these sort of trips safely].

Then a few days later the phone rang again!

Wanaka Search and Rescue personal gathering on Thurs. for a search of Lake Hawea for a missing kayaker, as of the previous Monday, and not reported missing until Wed...
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As one of two my team was a "shore" team. Deployed and supported by boat...
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Some of the shoreline was a bit rough, but considering a bad forecast, it was such a bonus to potter along in the sun...
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As it's a hydro lake, the levels vary accordingly...#alttext#

Our support boats also quietly searching...
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We never found him despite comprehensive resources of every sort bought to the search, which was not surprising - there must have been no life jacket in the plan! Sadly too the kayak was a "play" boat, very short and only meant for the likes of a creek, not a multi hour paddle to where he was last seen. And Lake Hawea is a raw and wild /windy lake with no shelter, and has very cold water. I feel for his parents and family and hope for the best outcomes.

After settling down to a more normal life yesterday I decided to straighten the bumper on my Land Cruiser camper - this after some months of careful thought as how to do it. I'd fallen in several holes in the autumn both figuratively and literally. These bumpers are deliberately "soft" so the ladder chassis does not get bent with an impact and one "falling" had bent the end up severely.

Opposing forces using my old Land Cruiser, blocks of wood and my trusty Canadian Jack-All jack to apply a downward one, by lowering the truck deck..
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Next apply a forward force via a block of wood and 4wd low range...
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Lastly using a black bottle jack horizontally for fine tuning, with the Jack-All in support against a crinkle in the metal...
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The two above projects, if you like, got me thinking about my back ground in Search and Rescue, improvisation and Land Cruisers. So here is a story:

Awakino Ski Field access road in North Otago. When young I spent months over many years working here on weekends on the road and ski tow for the developer and owner of both, Hakatamea farmer and identity the late Bill Sheath, in exchange for virtually free skiing in the winter months. The Waitaki Ski Club ran the accommodation - the huts half way up in this photo. Bill would run a daily 4 x 4 WWII "Puddle-Jumper" Chev truck service to the snow line, then we'd dump our sleeping gear in the hut, light the coal range and put on a "roast" meal for later, and then carry skis [and often fuel] up to the field...
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A young beardless me [by an avalanche toe] learnt my winter mountain craft skills here, and the area often got used by North Otago Search and Rescue for exercises, and by the North Otago Section of the New Zealand Alpine Club, for alpine skills courses ...
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Bill took up skiing at age 55...
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One Queen's Birthday weekend we removed a 15 ton blade for repairs from a Caterpillar D8 he'd bought...
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How we got that blade back on, on this slope, was one of many lessons in improvisation that Bill taught me that have stood me in good stead for all my life and in many situations inc. Antartica. Bill believed that we can do anything alone, providing we think it through...
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To remove a winch lifted/operated blade the huge U shackle is simply unbolted on both sides where it clamps the arm around a bollard on the dozer. Before this Bill had supported the blade with jacks, piles of rocks and wooden blocks, then simply reversed the dozer away from the area on the blade needing welding repairs. This was the easy part. When repairs were done he drove the dozer back in with great skill [all up weight at least 50 tons], deliberately nudging his cunningly placed supports the blade dropped into place as each pile collapsed in the planned fashion. I stood and watched in awe, not daring to think how we could lift such a weight should it miss it's mark! And all this on a mountain side that was far from flat.

Apart from improvisation and all manner of techniques you'd never believe like releasing the intake manifold bolts, inserting a baked bean tin beside same then filling it with petrol, which we'd ignite so as the engine turned over [towing one dozer with a 6 x 6 truck] it'd suck in the flames... [oh the stories], most of all I learnt to look after myself. We'd often finish in the dark and have a 45 min snow descent crossing gullies that have given many an unwary skier on foot a fright, if not a slide down a nasty gully, back to the welcome hut and roast meal.

Here is Bill with one of his pups Tim. The camera shutter would get slow in the cold, hence the odd and varied exposure..
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One winter's Sat. we arrived on the field to find an avalanche had demolished the [rope] tow shed housing the tractor that ran the rope. So that was yet more work, but we had it running in the open in no time, and rebuilt the shed the following summer...
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The last time I spent with Bill was many years ago. With the advent of 4wd ownership becoming affordable facilities improved vastly [it always was a more "indulge your hobbies", than a pure ski club]. And he'd been invited as guest of honour to open same, and he'd got all dressed up too. It was a very moving day for me, and now many years later I sure miss his companionship, kindness and keen well-read mind...
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And the connection to Land Cruisers? Simply I've had them in my life for what seems like forever - just another way to access the mountains I love!

Ski touring trip in the Godley Valley, Mount Cook National Park...
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On this trip of a weeks' duration we used nordic skis to get to Godley hut [and possibly retreat to Tekapo should a heavy snow fall stop Terrance Toyota] and from there the more heavy combat wider skis with skins, to do a few tours, but that's another story...
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Yip this truck is the same one as above used to lower onto my bent bumper. It's now semi retired on my back lawn needing new brakes. Old Terrance Toyota has looked after me so well for so long I often have dreams that he features in [symbolically]!
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