When you’re a sports enthusiast and you love the outdoors, you often find yourself in precarious situations — it’s part of the thrill of the outdoors. Hikers, climbers and bikers all find themselves lost or injured at some point, even if the result is not disastrous.
But when your sport involves harsh conditions and your equipment fails you and you become stranded, it’s a waiting game to see who — if anyone — will find you.
Ted Gifford, 69, and Robert Skille, 73, were skiing at Mt. Bachelor in Bend, Oregon. They set out on March 5, hoping to ski their way through the wilderness and spend each night at different warming shelters along the way.
Trouble found them on the very first day. They were unable to find their first night’s shelter, so they took as much cover as they could against a tree.
To make matters worse, they had brought two cell phones, but one had been lost and the other was just as good as lost. They tried to call from their remaining phone, but it had no service.
Finally, at around 5:24 p.m. on March 6, they placed a 911 call that got through to the Deschutes County Dispatch. The call was broken and no names were given, but that one broken call was enough.
“The call was dropped when the male said something about broken equipment,” the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Oregon wrote in a Facebook post on March 7. “Dispatch was able to provide coordinates for the phone location with an accuracy of 121 meters.”
“The call was made from a cell phone that did not have cellular service, was able to call 911, but not able to receive calls or texts.
“Dispatch was not able to obtain the name of the caller and other pertinent information. The coordinates placed the location of the call in the Happy Valley area about 3.75 miles NW of Tumalo Falls.”
Five people (two deputies and three volunteers) set out to search for the two men. By 8 p.m., six volunteers on snowmobiles joined in, as well.
The closest warming shelter was checked, but no one was there and there was no sign anyone had been there recently, so the volunteers split up and spread out.
It was a little after 10 p.m. when the volunteers found Gifford and Skille. They’d been just a quarter of a mile from the shelter they’d so desperately sought.
While both men were understandably quite cold, Gifford was also in rough shape.
“One of the skiers, Ted Gifford, was suffering from a life threatening condition as a result of the temperature and snow conditions,” the sheriff’s post continued. “The second skier, Robert Skille, was found in much better condition, but still extremely cold. DCSO SAR Volunteers immediately began warming efforts with Gifford.”
When the rescuers realized Gifford was not in any shape to hike out himself, they called in more volunteers and used a rescue sled to get him to safety. Once they got through the most difficult trek, he was transferred to a heated sled. It took them hours to get back out, even though they were using snowmobiles.
The conditions were so bad that they couldn’t be airlifted out, but the Bend Fire Department took over their care at 2:30 a.m. once they made it to the parking lot.
While Gifford’s current condition is not currently known, it is a miracle that these two were able to call for help and be located considering what they’d been through and where they were.
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