I got back from town Saturday afternoon and settled in for a peaceful evening. At 2043 the phone rings. A friend of a friend is on the other end and the reception is spotty. He is caribou hunting with his girlfriend and an older gentleman. He says they have their brand new ranger stuck in a floating bog and canít get it out. I had just left his place two days before when I helped pick it up from the dealer with him. Sweet setup with multi-mount winch, good tires, and windshield. I also did a modification to eliminate a small issue the new ones are having. He is about to get me coordinates that I ask for and we get disconnected. I text him to text me back since that usually works with low reception when voice communication doesnít. Meanwhile I grab the computer, open the topo program, and get a pencil and paper. I text a local friend that is working night shift and ask for the use of his ranger. Mine is in pieces waiting for time to repair it. I have access to a 6 wheeler but Iím thinking they are in a bad situation and I donít want to get them unstuck and then have to drive all the way to camp before we can get warm and dry. I want to take a big rig to haul anything I will need for the situation. This ended up being a wise choice. I get a call with the girlfriend on the other end and she is relaying info. I can hear him talking but he doesnít want to move the phone and lose me again. They get me coordinates that I write down. They give me all the info they can and I tell them it will be at least 4 hours before I am anywhere close. In hindsight I underestimated the time and am not happy about that. I knew where they are at and punch in their coordinates to pinpoint the location. They are just short of 3 miles past the end of a trail. 9 miles to their camp. Walking was not an option due to factors other than the distance. The weather is windy and there is mixed rain and snow falling soon to turn to snow as the temps drop into the evening. There was already snow on the ground as they had been tracking caribou into the upper elevations thru the day.
I began throwing gear together that I thought was needed. I still had gear and supplies strewn around the house from hunting trips and began filling a cooler with food and an action packer with gear. Three sleeping bags went into a dry bag and I grabbed my small action packer that carries some standard stuff I always take. After loading a bunch more stuff I took count of what I had and thought a bit to double check myself. I want to pause here and thank a great friend for the unquestioned use of his ranger and trailer. Akjoefuss youíre awesome!! I drove down to his place and got it hooked up and loaded. I hit the gas station and topped everything off. This part of the trip took a lot longer than expected and I will look at how I can speed things up in the future. Three hours from the call to hitting the road is unacceptable for me.
The 80 mile drive north goes smooth and I arrive at the trailhead on time. I unload and pack everything into the ranger and hit the trail. Roughly 4 miles in I take the side trail that will lead me to them and continue on. Another 5 or so miles brings me to the end of the trail. Iíve been real careful to this point to not get stuck and have backed out of a couple holes that I thought were questionable. The last thing I need is to get stuck and burn more time. I follow faint tracks as far as I can then begin depending solely on the gps. The terrain is extremely rough as I crawl thru it. Another factor that eats up a lot of time. After a couple miles it finally gets a bit smoother and I am now in a few inches of snow. I find a set of snowed in tracks but they quickly take a hard left and drop down a hill. Continuing on I fight my way up over a tall creek bank and am covering ground a bit quicker. Here is when something weird happened. I was using a borrowed gps that I took sheep hunting because it is lighter than mine and it has coordinates in it for the area I was in since the owner really likes the place and has spent a lot of time there. I hit a track and turn to the right to follow it. I went a short distance and checked the instrument to find it reading I was on the correct path. I stopped and thought that if I was already following the correct tracking, why is it now telling me Iím still good even after the 90 degree turn? Something caught my eye to my left and I shut the headlights off. There was a glow on the horizon. It is snowing and I know the hills are too socked in for there to be any moon tonight. And there is no town in this area to be creating a glow like that. I reoriented myself on the path I had been on and headed for the glow. Every so often I would kill the lights as I drove to make certain I stayed on target. After a couple humps in the ridgeline I see two faint headlamps in front of me. After skirting a couple ditches I come up on the couple. 3 miles of cross country travel has taken its toll on the clock. Their ranger has been running most of the night to provide some heat off the engine for warmth and for running the headlights. It wasnít much but it helped them deal with my tardiness.
Itís now 0530 and I immediately ask for a status update and itís not good. Everyone is wet and cold. The older gentleman has deteriorated noticeably in the last hour. I ask where a flat spot is located. He thinks I want to park on a flat area and I drive down to a spot just uphill from the stuck rig. He quickly figures out what I meant with my question. I tear thru the gear and pull out a canister stove, fuel can, water bottles, and metal cup. I give these to them and tell them to take care of the older gentleman who has been sitting in the ranger trying to stay warm. The couple had been hiking up and down the hill every once in a while to stay warm, but the other guy was confined to the rig with a sore back and twisted knee. They had spent hours hauling rocks from around the mountain to build a pile to anchor the winch line. At one point it actually held for a bit and moved the machine. But the line slipped and they could never get it to hold again. It just kept pulling the pile and a section of ground with it.
I yank out the AO12 and began setting it up. They get hot water going down at the rig and he comes up to finish setting up the tent. I hang the lantern in the tent and drive down to the stuck rig. We get the gentleman in and I pull him up to the tent door. They all get in and we start pulling sleeping bags and floor mats out. I apologized for not bringing the cots but I just didnít have much room left in the ranger. They get dry clothes on the guy and get him situated in a 30 below sleeping bag. I had my dog with me and I thought he was being a nuisance but he said the dog was actually helping keep his feet warm by laying on the foot of the bag. The couple get some wet clothes exchanged for new ones and she crawls in a bag. By this time I had the Nuway stove hooked up and purring along. The other guy didnít even bother getting in a bag. I set up the big cook stove and put on a pot of water for cocoa and spiced cider. Pulled out a fry pan and got some cheddar wurst hotdogs cooking. Cut a couple bagels in half and warmed them on the Nuway. Pulled out the bananas and various other snacks to munch on.
An hour has passed since arriving on scene and everything is under control. We chat quite a while as everyone eventually dozes off. I had already sent a SPOT message after the tent was erected and now I walked up the hill until I got reception on the cell and start updating everyone. After making contact with those involved I inspect the stuck rig. I get the shovel, handyman and loading ramps and experiment. I offset the ramp on the ground across the front. Setting the handyman on the ramp I begin lifting the front up. Itís rising but the 6 foot ramp is also sinking. I had offset the ramp to have room for setting the other ramp under a front tire. I center the ramp and try again for the heck of it. It is still sinking and the front is not going to lift to a height that will do any good. Oh well I pull the borrowed ranger down behind the stuck one and park it sideways. Again I was experimenting on how much of a pull it was going to take to move the rig. The ranger used as a deadman simply slid sideways as I winched. Alright enough messing around. I backed the ranger up against the rock pile they had built and winched out while using a tiny bit of throttle. It almost pulled the rear tire over the rock pile but was just enough to get unstuck. No need to use the pulleys and extra straps I brought. Later in the day there was enough dry clothes and lifted spirits that we packed up and headed for their camp. We stopped for a good meal and a final clothes change, packed up their camp and headed for the highway. I had fun and got to see some country I normally only see in the winter. I found out itís a lot smoother with a few feet of snow on the ground!