Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Hailey man rescued after four days in the snow

Parents see happy ending to frightening ordeal

Express Staff Writer

Ian Reed

If anyone had to be stuck in the snow miles from anywhere and face the prospect of surviving a winter out of doors, 20-year-old Hailey resident Ian Reed said it's a good thing it was he.

Before being picked up by an Idaho National Guard helicopter on Friday, Dec. 2, Reed had four days to think about his prospects for rescue. They didn't look good. He had left Boise on the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 28, intending to reach the Wood River Valley that night via back roads through the Boise National Forest. His plan was to follow the Middle and South Forks of the Boise River to Dollarhide Summit, west of Ketchum, and then take Warm Springs Road into town—a plan he later dubbed "the foolish route."

His parents were expecting him for a visit at their home in Hailey during a break from his studies at Central Oregon Community College, in Bend. A friend whom he had just left in Boise knew of his change in plans to take the back roads rather than the highway. But it seemed unlikely that those two parties would ever connect. And if they didn't, no one would come looking for him.

That was the discouraging thought. The reassuring thought was that Reed had taken several survival courses, the most recent for six weeks last summer in Arizona, hiking through the dessert for 200 miles. He figured that if it came to it, he could survive a winter in the mountains.

When he left Boise, the weather was clear and there was no snow to be seen. He headed east out of town, past Arrowrock Reservoir and up the Middle Fork of the Boise. Still there was no snow, just a few patches of ice on the road. No problem, he figured—he'd be home by late that night and see some new country along the way.

About 25 miles past the reservoir, he made a right turn, thinking he was headed up Phifer Creek Road toward Featherville, on the South Fork of the Boise. Before long, he encountered a thin layer of snow on the road. As the road climbed, the snow grew deeper. This wasn't looking promising, and he began to get nervous. He abandoned his plan to reach Ketchum via the back roads. But jeez, go all the way back to Boise? No, that was too far. He figured the summit couldn't be much farther, and once he got to Featherville, he'd head south to the highway, and cruise home from there.

As it turned out, he wasn't on the Phifer Creek Road at all. He had turned right about five miles short of his intended route, and was on the Roaring River Road. But it made little difference. Every road in the area that climbed high was covered with too much snow to drive through. About 10 miles up the Roaring River Road, Reed's all-wheel-drive Subaru was stuck.

By then, it was dark.

"By the time I did get stuck, I was almost relieved to not be driving," Reed said. "Sleeping sounded like such a better thing to do."

Reed's immediate prospects were fine. As usual, he was traveling with a sleeping bag. In fact, this time he had four of them. He wasn't going to freeze.

In the morning, he packed his water bottles with snow, put them in front of the car's heater and turned on the engine. He had lighters and matches with him as well, so he wasn't going to die of thirst, at least not for a long time.

Reed knew that the biggest threat to most people when they find themselves lost is the tendency to panic. The need to be patient and concoct a plan had been drummed into him from his survival courses and from conversations with his father, James Reed, a former survival course instructor.

"I was blessed with the kind of upbringing that taught me never to panic," Reed said.

After he concluded that his car was terminally stuck, his first impulse was to hike back to the Middle Fork Road and catch a ride to Boise. But the more he considered that idea, the riskier it seemed. He had about 10 miles to hike through the snow to a very lightly traveled road. What if he didn't get a ride? Away from his car, he might not survive the night. He decided to stay with the car.

The car was more than just shelter. It contained the necessities for life. His only food was a bag of sunflower seeds and a bag of corn nuts. But he had a bow and arrows, and the skill to use them. He had won archery awards as a kid. From his survival training, he knew how to make small-animal traps.

"I decided I could probably get by for quite some time out there," Reed said. "I wasn't worried about myself at all. I was thinking about how everyone else would be worried about me. I was the only one who knew I was OK."

When Reed hadn't shown up in Hailey by Tuesday, his parents called his sister in Boise to see if she knew where he was. She didn't, but still, his parents figured he was staying with someone there before making the final leg of his trip to Hailey. When another night had passed with no sign of him, that situation changed.

"On Wednesday, we started getting really alarmed," said Reed's stepmother, Leslee Reed.

They called his roommate in Bend, who thankfully knew the name of the young woman he was planning on visiting in Boise. It was a lucky call, because the woman had little connection to Reed's other friends. She told James and Leslee that Ian had left Boise on Monday at 3 p.m., planning on taking a back route to the Wood River Valley.

"That's when we went, 'Oh, no,'" Leslee Reed said.

James called a friend who owned a Hummer utility vehicle and who owed him a favor. They left Hailey at 2 a.m. Thursday headed for the mountain roads between Boise and Ketchum. Even the Hummer, however, didn't get far before it was stopped by deep snow.

Meanwhile, other family members began to contact authorities to get a search organized.

By that time, a blizzard had moved in. It dumped about a foot of snow on the south-central Idaho mountains on Wednesday night and Thursday.

Sitting in his Subaru and watching the big flakes come down, Reed's first thoughts were about how pretty it looked, and how good the snowboarding was going to be. He also realized there was no way he was going to get the car out now, and that a hike out had become even riskier. He reconciled himself to the possibility that he might be there for a long time, and began to make plans to build a shelter in which he could make a fire.

He had been rationing the sunflower seeds and corn nuts, knowing that he needed them more for their salt, which helps the body retain moisture, than for their nutritive value.

In the midst of the blizzard on Thursday, two Elmore County sheriff's deputies set out on snowmobiles from Featherville, hoping to go over the summit to Phifer Creek Road.

"All day Thursday, the weather was just nasty," Deputy Rick Bohling said.

He said the two ran into 6- to 7-foot drifts, and spent a lot of time digging out. They made it to Rocky Bar, on the south side of the summit over to Phifer Creek, but reported that they saw no sign of Reed or his car.

That report, James Reed said, was "the darkest hour."

He said he had a lot of confidence in his son's skills, but he didn't know how much gear Ian had in his car since he knew he was planning to pick up some things from storage while he was in Hailey. The thought that nagged him the most was the possibility that Ian could have had an accident, and may be lying somewhere injured and helpless.

"That was the screaming thought in my head as I was crying myself to sleep Thursday night," he said.

The search resumed on Friday, Bohling said, with help from Elmore County Search and Rescue and the Idaho Parks and Recreation Department. He said they procured the services of a snowmobile trail groomer to beat a path over the summit to Phifer Creek.

A Blackhawk helicopter from the National Guard in Boise was also called into action. It headed up the Middle Fork of the Boise.

"When I heard it, I knew it was a search helicopter and I knew they were looking for me," Reed said. "I realized I needed to be seen by them. I waited until they got close and I grabbed an orange jacket and stood on my car and waved it to get their attention."

The helicopter dropped two water bottles by the car, then found a place to land nearby. Reed walked over to it.

"They were really surprised to see me able to walk around with a clear head," he said. "They must have thought I was in a really bad situation."

He still hadn't eaten all of his sunflower seeds and corn nuts.

Reed said the helicopter crew members told him they didn't often find people alive once they had been out in the winter for more than three days.

The helicopter flew Reed to Boise, where his family met him at the airfield.

"My friends—that's what they're jealous about—that I got to ride out in a Blackhawk helicopter," he said.

After he was reunited with his son, James Reed said, he saw a drawing Ian had made of the shelter he had planned to build, as well as a "meticulous" inventory of items he had in the car.

"For Ian to find himself out there and do as well as he did, I'm really proud of him," he said. "He had a reasonably coherent plan to spend the winter out there.

"You can teach anyone all the ropes of survival, but the most critical thing is the panic issue. To control that panic is not easy. No one knows their real grit until they're put to the test, and very few of us get that chance."

The rest of the family, James Reed said, was put to a test as stressful as Ian's.

"It left me a much richer human being, to feel as deeply as I felt," he said.

But, he added, "I don't want to repeat it any time soon."

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