Thursday, August 13 started off like every other work day…..Wake up, oatmeal, coffee…coffee….more coffee….walk to the office. Check my email, hang around the office, and see whats on the days agenda.

I email my friend Jordan, who works as a Helitack Firefighter here at SEKI, and ask if there is any way that I can job shadow her one day and go up in the helicopter! She asked her boss…and I was immediately shut down. Hey, it was worth a shot.

Lunch time rolls around so I walk home, and eat my salad outside on the back deck. As I’m eating, my roommate Lisa gets a text message from Jordan, saying she’s been trying to get ahold of me, explaining that she may have found a way for me to get up in the helicopter! I immediately begin freaking out, asking “HOW HOW HOW?!” Apparently there was a Search and Rescue(SAR) going on and they needed eight volunteers to get helicoptered out into the backcoutry for up to 72 hours, in order to find a lost hiker.

I run back to the visitor center, call the SAR office, and they inform me to report to Headquarters. My adrenaline is pumping now, just imagining being flown into the backcountry for three days on a helicopter!

I report to HQ, and the entire room is in a frenzy; LE’s everywhere, people on phones, computers set up, maps on the wall, the whole shebang. It felt like I was in an episode of Law and Order. The SAR crew, all dressed in yellow, asked me if I was cleared for 72 hours, I said “yes”, then was immediately told to go home, pack for three days, and meet back at HQ ASAP to be briefed on the situation.

Literally, I cannot believe this is happening to me! I run home, my adrenaline pumping even harder. I yell at Lisa “IM GOING IM GOING IM GOING!” I excitedly pack all my gear, hoping that I have everything and brace myself for three days worth of MRE’s.

I run back to HQ, threw my pack in the SAR vehicle and head up the stairs to be briefed. The room is still a frenzy, but I get ushered to a desk to finish some paperwork. I immediately said “SHOOT, I forgot my ID”, but the SAR team tell me there is no time, we need to get moving to the helicopter, I’ll have to finish my paperwork when we get back. HOLY COW THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING. I hand the unfinished documents to the budget technician, get up to leave…and just then, in the middle of the chaos, I hear an LE say “We got ’em”. The entire room relaxes all at once, as if everyone took a deep breath and let it out at the same time; the hiker had been found, the SAR was over.

Of course finding the missing hiker was the absolute best case scenario, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t be a part of the SAR team and go in a helicopter. The SAR team thanked me for being so prepared and ready, explaining to me that now I am officially signed up as an AD-Hire, meaning I am on a list of individuals to call when another SAR happens in the park.

When hikers go missing in the backcountry, it is extremely dangerous and very serious. I just hope that next time an opportunity arises, I’ll have the chance to prove myself and help in any way I can. Never a dull moment here at SEKI!

Stephany Dery

Centennial Volunteer Ambassador

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park