When I really needed it

So I mentioned elsewhere on the site we had an adventure filled trip back from Salmon on Saturday night. I just finished sending an email saying thanks to KE7KQB a ham radio operator in Oregon. The email explains what happend and how Ham Radio really came though (for me this time). So… I’ll just post the email and let it explain. 

Jeremy,

Just wanted to say a big thanks for you help the other night/morning…   My wife (KD7VKY) and I were driving back from Salmon, ID to Boise, had been visiting my parents for Christmas. We’ve driven those roads millions of times in all sorts of weather and on several occasions have had to stop and help other people who broke down or got stuck. That night the roads weren’t especially bad, Banner summit had a foot of snow in the road since it has been plowed and an icy base under that, I was surprised the road was open from the number of avalanches we saw, none really big, but a lot of them. By the time we got down to lowman and turned onto the banks-lowman road, the road was a lot better and were out of the avalanches (so we thought). 

About half way between Lowman and Garden Valley we went around a curve and there was a small avalanche on the right side of the road. I moved to the left but not far enough apparently (the stereotypical it happened so fast I’m not 100% sure what happened applies here) the next thing I know is we’d been turned and sent over to the ditch on the right side of the road. Both right wheels were off in the ditch and while I was still had momentum I tried to pull back out of the ditch, but it didn’t work. To make maters worse, there had been another avalanche into the ditch and we nosed right into it. When I got out I found the hood of my Ford Ranger was buried in snow, both right side tires were off in the ditch and the road under the left two tires was solid ice. 

It was around 10:15pm when this happened. We always call my parents when get to cell service back in Boise, they would have been expecting our call no later than midnight. At this point I figured we’d dig out and still make it to a phone in Garden Valley to call them so they wouldn’t be worried or call the police.
 
I was fairly confident I could get out of it, but it’d take time. We hadn’t seen another vehicle since back in Stanley, so I didn’t expect to have help anytime soon. I always stress being prepared for anything. I always have food, water, warm clothes and everything needed to survive 72 hours in my truck no matter the season. I also have plenty of tools; shovel, hand winch, saw, tow straps, flashlights etc. “Just in case.” 

I guess I had been working for over an hour before I decided to turn the radio on and see if I could get anyone. Obviously we were no where near cell coverage. I have an HF radio in my truck but my antenna for it is disassembled for repair at the moment. I had a portable antenna kit that I could have put together if I really needed to. I turned on the 2m rig and tried all the repeaters and simplex. I’ve got a pretty nice 2m antenna that’s served me well in the back country, I’m always amazed what I can get from where. I figured Shaffer Butte was my only chance, from previous experience while driving this road, and it was spotty at best. I knew the Cinnabar machine was out of the question, but tried it anyway, as well as every other memory in my radio, Simplex and even the Shaffer reverse pair. I finally dialed around to the Snowbank repeater surprised to say the least to hear it back. I know I can hit it in other places between Stanley and Boise but I really didn’t expect to hit it from here. It had to take at least two bounces to make that path, especially considering I was up against a steep mountain blocking me in that direction. I’m sure the weather helped  

It was around 10 or 15 degrees and snowing pretty hard, so I was cold from the weather and hot from all the work… Needless to say I was really happy when I heard you answer my call (not sure if you were on the .62 or if the link was up and you were on the .84). I was still 51% sure I could dig out, but wanted to let someone know where we were and to let my parents know we were ok. Given the number of avalanches we’d seen, I did have a thought in the back of my mind of a larger avalanche coming down the mountain and burying the truck. I know it wasn’t the best signal and you had a hard time understanding me, it probably didn’t help that I was a tad stressed, but you were great. I can’t tell you how reassuring it was once I knew that we had a link to help if we needed it and you had called my parents to tell them know where we were and that we were ok. Just knowing someone knew where we were made an incredible difference.  

It still took a LOT longer to dig/winch out than I would have thought. Apparently you gave your phone number to my parents, when you tried to call us for an update, both my wife and I were outside the truck and our new puppy (just picked him up that day) had stepped on the remote mic for the radio and turned it off). Given the lack of radio contact, this is probably when they left 3 messages on each phone we have, plus email and text messages, thinking we may have gotten out without letting them know. As I understand it, this is the point where my parents called the Boise County Sheriff’s Office to report us missing in the area to see if anyone could drive out to check on us; The dispatcher told my parents no one was on duty and they didn’t want to wake anyone up. (reassuring isn’t it?)  Wonder if they would have regretted that had another avalanche buried us and they found us dead the next morning? 

I don’t recall exactly but I guess it was around 2am when we finally got the truck back up onto the road and were able to get word out to you that we were moving again. We stopped in Garden Valley to change into warm clothes and made the rest of the trip uneventful. We did see one other avalanche on the banks-lowman road which had about eight to ten feet of snow across most of the road but were able ease around it. Glad we weren’t involved with that one. 

Again, I just wanted to say thanks. I’ve been working in or volunteering with emergency communications since I was 14, but this is the first time my rear end has been the one on the line, and I’m very thankful you were on the other end. It might not have been a life or death emergency at the moment, but who know what could have happened… Having someone know our location could have made the difference had something else gone wrong. 

I’d also like to thank the Voice of Idaho Amateur Radio Club tech team as some of the upgrades made to the snowbank repeater in the last few years made it sensitive enough to pick up my weak signal where it wouldn’t have in the past. 

73
Zeb Palmer
W7ATC/m    
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