Snowy surprise – Teens unprepared for night spent stuck in snow
Two times, Jason Smith had tried to climb the summit of Chalk Bluff Road, above Cascade Shores, in his sport utility vehicle, and two times he had failed.
Surely, the 19-year-old thought, the third time was the charm. It had been sunny and warm for an entire week, so mud would not be a problem. So Smith, his 17-year-old sister, Renee, and two other friends decided to go for a drive in the rain – beginning a night that would drag on until they were found by a search-and-rescue crew the next morning.
“We didn’t think there would be snow,” Smith said. “My sister had flip-flops on.” Only his sister and another girl had sweaters. Smith and another boy were wearing light shirts.
That night a week ago highlighted how drivers can quickly find themselves snowbound or in similar emergencies that test their preparedness for the unpredictable.
For the teenagers trapped about two miles from Highway 20, east of Banner Mountain, their long night March 19 largely was owed to their overconfidence.
“In Cascade Shores, there’s a nice paved road,” Nevada County Search and Rescue coordinator Walt Jones said. “Then it turns into a dirt road; then it branches off into logging roads.
“It climbs a lot in altitude. When they started, it was raining. When they got there, it was snowing.”
That is why Jason Smith wanted to get to the top – it was difficult. The siblings and their friends left at about 7 p.m., and it soon began to snow. Jason Smith was barely able to get through one snowdrift, he said, so when they hit a second one, he did not want to go back through the first.
“I got cocky,” he said. “I didn’t stop when I should have.”
The SUV got stuck. The teens tried to dig themselves out, but only got soaked in the process. Then the SUV’s battery died. It got dark and the snow started falling more heavily.
“I have AAA – I thought it would not be a problem,” Smith said. “They sent out a tow truck, and it got stuck. They had to send another one just to get it out.”
At 11 p.m., they called their parents for help, and the parents called the sheriff’s office. Several deputies were dispatched to the general area, but the teens did not know exactly where they were.
At 3 a.m., the sheriff’s search-and-rescue team was called out to find the stranded Isuzu Trooper.
“The time dragged on and on,” Smith said. “We were tired, and everything was quiet.”
The friends were not afraid, he said, but they were cold.
“They were not properly dressed for the elements,” Jones said. “But they did the right thing and stayed put.”
The teens also stayed in contact with authorities and gave descriptions of their surroundings: Trees with numbers spray-painted on them, a forest service sign, a “no trespassing” sign.
Searchers found them at 8 a.m. Sunday morning two miles in from Highway 20. The rescue crew had to hike a third of a mile to reach the stranded explorers. The car was still trapped there a week later.
“We thought we were going to get a lecture,” Smith said. “But the search and rescue people were all very nice.”
What to keep in yo ur car
– A 1- or 2-foot-square piece of 1/2-inch plywood to support the vehicle jack
– Wheel chocks
– Flares or reflective triangles
– Flashlight with extra batteries
– Gloves and coveralls
– Ice scraper
– Jumper cables
– One quart of motor oil
– One gallon of fresh water
– First aid kit
– Small shovel
– Tire pressure gauge
– Duct tape
– A small tool kit containing wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers and a socket set.
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