Wednesday, July 31, 1996

Stein Valley Take 1

This is an email I sent out a long time ago. Well before this blog existed, but I thought folks may be interested. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

I took off Thursday evening and went up to Lillooet to go camping with a friend of mine (S) who works for the Ministry of Forests, and 4 of her friends (L, M, A and N) who are also Min For. We were going to start off in the upper Stein (up near Lillooet) and hike down to the bottom of the Stein Valley right above the Lytton Ferry. We started off up near Devil's Lake, and were going to follow Cattle Creek down to Cottonwood Creek, down to the Stein River, and out the bottom of the Valley. We spent Friday organizing vehicles, and didn't take off until Friday evening.
Friday evening we made it up near Devil's Lake (7700') and camped out...things were fine at this point ;-) Up at the lake we met an outdoor adventure group who showed us a "better" route on the map from the one we were going to take. So Saturday we started out and headed down Cattle Creek, and then changed to the "better" route which involved us dropping to about 6000' and then climbing right back up to 7700'. I hope my pictures come out. Anyways after hiking along this ridge we abruptly came to basically a drop off and managed to wind our way down a goat trail to the Cottonwood. At this point (7 hours of serious hiking) we'd only covered about a third of the distance we wanted to cover for the day. Our main trouble was that S and L had been hiking the week before and had arrived home 1.5 hours late and had been severely reprimanded by their supervisor because he'd already gotten search planes ready, so we really wanted to be home on time. 
We bush whacked our way down Cottonwood Creek to get to the junction of Cottonwood and Cattle (where we'd intended to go in the first place) and couldn't find the trail we had been told existed there. At this point we had two choices. One was to continue down Cottonwood and the other was to go up on the ridge. By checking our aerial photos and our topos and our water supply we decided to stick with the creek. (First major bad decision). It should be emphasized that this creek is anywhere from 15-40' across and is all white water. M had done some whitewater kayaking (more than myself) and we both considered the Creek to be completely unnavigable by kayak or river raft.
Anyways we proceeded down the glacier creek and found ourselves a camp site for the second night on the edge of the river set back in the forest.
This is where things get a little more interesting.
The third day (Sunday) we continued down the creek and after some incredible bush whacking that shouldn't even have been attempted (second major bad decision) we ended up at what appeared to be a dead end. I stripped down, grabbed onto a rope and jumped in the water and drifted down creek (third major bad decision). I tied up the rope down at my end, and then we started ferrying people and packs across with the packs carried strapped to our heads. On the way, S managed to slip and fall off the line and got washed into a hole in the river. She banged into a rock and ripped a small gash in her stomach and leg. I bandaged up S while the rest of the crew scouted ahead. We continued on down the river for about another half kilometer and found another place which was difficult to navigate. M and I scouted up ahead and found that we could keep least for a while. While we were navigating our second difficult place (which didn't require getting into the water), L slipped and fell in the creek and got washed down creek. All we saw was him fall in the creek, and get washed over a ridge into a SERIOUS hole. I sprinted down river, and finally found him about 100m downstream on the opposite side of the river in the last eddy before a major set of waterfalls (Cattle falls for those who've been there). He was in complete shock and there was no way he could climb out, or cross the river. He also, as we found out later had a serious ostrich egg size bruise on his right hip. At this point we set up camp at the last flat spot and started waiting for the rescue planes which was Sunday about noon. We put out crosses, and made flags, and got a smudge signal fire ready to go. Sunday night we slept out on the rock and waited. Monday morning we saw one helicopter and one plane fly over us, but nobody noticed us. We found out later that the pilots had decided that there was no way humans could get in that far so had stopped the search about .5k short of where we were. 
M and I got restless and decided we should set some markers up stream from us in a clearer area. This required doing some interesting navigating around some rocks which the girls didn't feel comfortable with at all, especially S already having taken an unexpected swim. We put up a large signal flag, and made a bigger smudge fire upstream. We then lit the smudge fire. The fire burned just a little too beautifully and managed to catch some nearby wood which went up which set of some nearby trees which set of the nearby forest. I have never seen anything unfold so fast in my entire life. M and I sprinted down stream to help the girls pack up our gear and hide it behind rocks. I then went back up stream and started fighting forest fires with a Becel margarine container. We were finally noticed at this point ;-) A Rap Attack (an ace forest fire squad who specialize in rappelling into forest fires) chopper came and landed near me and I explained our situation. They then told me to go down to the girls and explain that they were going to lift us out of there ASAP. I ran down stream, and as the chopper took off it managed to light up the entire beach with it's downdraft making it impossible for the helicopter to land there again.
We huddled down stream and waited for the RapAttack crew to show up. They went for L first but couldn't drop right on him due to weird winds in the canyon. They dropped a crew of three people downstream from L, but they couldn't make it upstream to him. The three people climbed up to the top of the canyon (100') and rappelled down to L. The RapAttack chopper came back and attempted to get us out, but couldn't drop anybody in on us, again due to weird winds. They instead dropped in a chainsaw and proceeded to drop a log across the river on which they landed the chopper. We climbed in the chopper and flew out of there about 9pm on Monday night. The rapattack crew spent the night on the creek, we spent the night at Forest Fire HQ at Lytton. As of 11am Tuesday morning the fire was out (as far as I know). We burned about 40-60 trees. L turned out just to have a serious bruise, and S cut was minor but infected. The rest of us are just fine. I got back last night and spent the evening "discussing" this with various people...parents etc.
So that was my weekend. If anybody wants a lunch and learn on forest survival and psychology (which I completely left out of the story and makes it MUCH longer) let me know eh? ;-) If anybody wants a quick hike in the Stein, I've got the area down pretty well now....

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