Snow costs hunter tent, chains, trip

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comNovember 26, 2012 

Editor's Note: Sun-Star hunting columnist Mike North recently found himself in a precarious situation, trapped in the wilderness with a failing cell phone and snowstorm overhead. He details his adventure in two parts, with the conclusion to appear Wednesday.

Part 1: Oh, no, snow

Any outdoorsman who spends a significant time in the wilderness can tell you that hunts don't always go as expected. When my annual bear hunt ended with a search and rescue team taking me down the mountain, such was the case for me this year.

Last month, I allotted nine days to make the trek to my mountain up in the Plumas National Forest.

Weather reports called for a few inches of snow along with some rain later in the week, but the forecasts didn't paint an ominous enough picture to change my plans.

I threw some gear in my truck and loaded up a little food and water.

Just as I was about to walk out the door and leave, I spontaneously grabbed my Bible from the table beside my bed and brought it along. I figured nine solitary days up in the mountains would allow me plenty of time to catch up on The Good Book.

The day after I arrived, the weather was favorable. A few dark clouds passed by, but didn't seem to bother the 10 deer that I saw. The hillsides were alive with wildlife.

That night, I made sure my camp was ready for the coming snow. My large tent was staked down and sturdy. I even tied up a couple tarps around the sides to keep any snow from building up on the walls.

But all that proved to be pointless.

The wind kicked up after 10 p.m. I could hear it coming from a long way off, sounding like a freight train barreling into me and plowing into my tent. The gusts were so strong it shook me on my cot.

Then the snow started falling as I drifted off to sleep.

I woke up after midnight with something heavy on top of me. It was my tent. The weight of the snow had collapsed it and bent the poles.

In the darkness, I picked it up and pushed off as much snow as I could. That became a recurring chore that night. But eventually the weight of the snow snapped one of my fiberglass poles.

When morning came, I crawled out of my pancaked shelter to see a totally different world than when I went to bed. A foot of snow covered the ground and constant flurries kept visibility low.

I decided to cut my hunt short and head for home. Catching the remaining San Francisco Giants playoff games sounded better than getting buried in snow.

I packed up, put snow chains on my two-wheel-drive pickup and started up the old, steep logging road that leads to a main logging road and back to the highway.

I made it about 20 feet before my tires spun, busting off one set of chains and snapping two links off the other set.

The sun peaked out just enough to melt some of the snow and ice as I dug out a path along the road -- all 100 yards of it. But the melted snow made my traction worse. It was then I realized I was stuck.

With a little life left on my cell phone's battery and spotty service, I made three calls -- one to my dad to let him know of the situation, one to the Sun-Star to let my boss know I'd try to get back to work soon, and one to the local Forest Service to tell them I might have to abandon my truck for the winter.

I put the phone away to save the last of the battery for an emergency call and took a walk. I encountered a couple other hunters, each who gave me pieces of news that were like punches to the gut.

Bad: We were in for more stormy weather in the coming days. Worse: a search and rescue team was dispatched somewhere in those mountains to try to find another hunter who was lost in the same area.

One of the fellas I was talking to tied a long strand of orange tape on a tree to mark the road I was on and wished me luck.

As more snow began to fall and light became dim, he suggested I wait till midnight for the roads to freeze, which might provide enough traction for me to escape. I went back to digging out the road and used my rake to keep it clear of the accumulating snow.

I said a small prayer in the midst of my work, asking the Lord to safely deliver the lost fellow that the deputies were looking for. I told him a little help my way would be nice, too.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or

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