Injured hikers keep SAR hopping

Ron Burtz

With summer here and large numbers of visitors pouring in from all over the country, Custer County Search and Rescue (SAR) volunteers have been predictably busy over the past few days. Accidents on the much-traveled hiking trails around Sylvan Lake and Black Elk Peak have been the source of several of the calls for assistance.
According to reports on the agency’s social media page, on Father’s Day SAR was paged out just before 5 p.m. to assist Custer Ambulance Service with the rescue of a 10 year old boy who had reportedly fallen about 12 feet off some rocks along the Sunday Gulch Trail, part of which follows the creek which runs out of Sylvan Lake. It was also reported he had hit his head in the fall.
Arriving at the trailhead, the team traveled on foot to the scene of the fall carrying a wheeled litter basket and prepared for a hand carryout because ATVs and UTVs could not negotiate the rough terrain of the trail.
When SAR crew members arrived at the scene of the fall, they were met by paramedics who had arrived earlier and were treating the boy as he was being held by his mother. The boy’s father had reportedly climbed out of Sunday Gulch to the shore of the lake in order to make the 911 call since there is little or no cell service in the gulch.
After securing the injured youth in the litter, SAR members began carrying him in rotating teams up the steep rocky trail below Sylvan Lake to the waiting ambulance.
“He was able to respond to questions and speak as we proceeded so we are hopeful he’ll have a good outcome,” said the writer of the post.
After a short ambulance ride, the victim was transferred to a Black Hills Life Flight helicopter from Rapid City which had landed at the intersection of highways 87 and 89 just above the lake while Custer County Sheriff deputies and Custer State Park law enforcement along with SAR members were blocking traffic. Ninety minutes after the 911 call came in, the patient was on his way to Rapid City for treatment.
Two days later SAR responded to another injury on the Sunday Gulch Trail and just minutes later was called to assist with yet another injured hiker. Last Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. SAR members were paged out to help a woman who had tripped on a root and also hit her head while hiking the trail. Volunteers were soon waved off that call, however, because the woman’s fellow hikers had helped her make her way to the highway above the trail where the ambulance met and picked her up.
Just 45 minutes later, however, there was a call to assist another nearby hiker who was having medical difficulties while hiking down Trail 4 below Black Elk Peak. Having received coordinates from the 911 call which showed the young man was just above the boundary for the Black Elk Wilderness Area, rescuers responded to the Little Devil’s Tower trailhead along Needles Highway. Also responding were law enforcement officers of the Black Hills National Forest.
Paramedics took two ATVs as far as the trail would safely allow, then continued on foot and found the patient near the expected location. Meanwhile, other SAR members stood by at the trailhead in case a carryout was necessary.
After being given medical aid, the hiker was able to walk down to a point where another crew had parked a UTV. From there he was given a ride to the ambulance at the trailhead and taken to the hospital in Custer.
SAR used its report of these incidents to make a point about how friends and bystanders can help out in such situations.
“If you do get into trouble out in the woods or anywhere, a 911 call will give responders your location in most circumstances,” said the post.
It also mentioned that people can now also text 911 in most areas including Custer County. This is especially helpful when a strong cell signal is not available since a text will often go through when a call will not.
SAR also advised: “If you or someone with you is able, climbing to a higher location may help you get a phone signal. Avoid using your phone for other purposes until your emergency is resolved. Save the battery for additional communication with 911 or with responders who may contact you for information.”


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