SCA Sherpas to the Rescue (in 1978!)

by Lou Lunte, SCA alumnus

Lou Lunte has spent his career in the environmental field and for the past 30 years has been deputy state director of The Nature Conservancy in Boise, Idaho. In April, he returned to SCA to serve on our Alumni Council. This is just one of his many SCA stories…

Susan and I were looking at maps in the Olympic National Park Visitor Center when Phil, our crew leader, came up and urgently asked us to meet him at the van. He rushed out to round up the rest of the crew— Jim, Jain, Glenn, and Claire – and we hurried out to meet everyone. It was just our second day together as an SCA Sherpa crew, but I could tell that whatever was going to happen next was not planned. 

We jumped in the van and were soon heading up the road to one of the Park’s major trailheads. Phil explained there had been an accident: a hiker had fallen in a difficult to access location and broken at least one leg. The Park Service rangers needed our help getting him out. 

We met the rangers at the parking lot getting their emergency gear together. It was quite a steep hike up to reach the semi-conscious hiker and then we spent more than an hour bringing him down the slope in a backcountry stretcher, trading off as we slowly descended to the parking lot and a waiting ambulance. Fortunately, the EMTs thought he’d be okay.

Wow, if this was day two of my month as a Sherpa, I wondered what the next four weeks would be like. I was not disappointed: glaciers, mountain goats, unbelievably beautiful meadows, swimming in crystal clear lakes and the Pacific Ocean.

But best of all were the incredible friendships I developed with my fellow crew members. We came from all across the country with very different life stories, but for the next month we’d sweat together, sing together, cook for each other, share stories, play games and wonder aloud about our futures.

Sure, the “carries” were often long, heavy (50-70 pounds) and in hot weather, but the scenery never disappointed. We never knew what we’d be hauling and for what purpose until we arrived at the trailhead. Most of the carries were to deliver supplies to park rangers for trail projects or to university researchers or other SCA work crews. However, I remember one carry best of all. 

We were 18 days into the month when we headed up the Dosewallips River Trail. We hiked all day to get to our base camp next to a spectacular meadow blanketed with flowers. Phil explained that evening over the campfire that we’d be moving a “bear box” tomorrow. Bear box? Yes. Made mostly of metal, the rangers use them at remote camps to store food and other belongings to keep the bears from destroying their stuff. 

Usually, the boxes are lifted in by a helicopter because they are so heavy and hard to move. Unfortunately, the pilot had dropped this bear box in the wrong meadow and we needed to move it up the valley. Good thing we were young and in good shape by then because, though only two miles, it took everything we had to move that nearly 170 pound box up a narrow trail and across several streams. Sometimes four of us would be hauling at the same time, but too often in narrow spots just two of us had to move the box. When the bear box was finally in its proper location, the rest of our carries that month seemed easy.

What an awesome July in 1978! Thank you SCA for giving me an experience of a lifetime in just a month’s time. I hope my fellow crew member’s life journeys have been amazing - I know mine has been.