BEND, OR -- Two cross-country skiers were rescued from near Tumalo Falls, after two days in the back-country. Deschutes County 911 received a call just before 5:30 p.m. Wednesday from a man who said he was skiing on the Metolius Windigo Trail, after beginning on Mt. Bachelor. The call was dropped after he said something about "broken equipment." Because the phone did not have cellular service, it was able call 911 but couldn't receive calls or texts. Coordinates for the call narrowed the phone's location to the Happy Valley area, northwest of Tumalo Falls, with about 400 feet accuracy.
Sheriff's Deputies and Search and Rescue volunteers mobilized; six snowmobiles deployed from Dutchman Snow Park. They arrived at the Happy Hut warming shelter, at 9:30 p.m., about 300 yards north of the cell phone coordinates, but did not find any fresh tracks in the immediate area. Four of the volunteers then deployed on skis to check cross country trails in both directions. They soon found fresh tracks and, at about 10:15 p.m., they found the two Nordic skiers.
When they contacted the pair, 69-year-old Ted Gifford, of Green Bay, WI, was suffering a life threatening condition due to the cold. The team immediately began to try to warm him. Because Gifford could not move on his own, additional SAR volunteers responded to help transport him by rescue sled to the closest snowmobile trail. He was taken about 300 yards through what was described as arduous conditions, to an enclosed and headed ambu-sled. Gifford was then taken to the Mt. Bachelor parking lot, arriving at about 2:30 a.m. His companion, 73-year-old Robert Skille, from Silverton, was in much better shape but still cold; he was able to hike to the snowmobile trail and rode to the parking lot, where Bend Fire medics transported both men to St. Charles for further treatment.
SAR learned Gifford and Skille planned a multi-day back-country Nordic ski trip with overnight stops at the various Three Sisters Backcountry warming shelters. They began Tuesday, but were never able to find their Tuesday night shelter and they took cover in a tree well for the night. They lost one cell phone and the other had only questionable service.
The Sheriff's Office expressed gratitude to the Sisters Sno-Gopher Snowmobile Club, who had a trail groomer in the area, which worked the trails between Dutchman Flat and the Happy Hut Shelter, facilitating a quicker and safer response by rescuers.
UPDATE (03/11/19): One of the Nordic skiers rescued last week after two days in the back-country, has died. According to the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, 69-year-old Ted Gifford, of Wisconsin, passed away at St. Charles Bend the day after his rescue.
(Top) File Photo: Happy Valley Warming Shelter
(Lower) One of the nordic skiers during the rescue operation, March 7; courtesy DCSO SAR