Three snowmobilers survive night caught in storm
Three snowmobilers found themselves on more than a three-hour tour Sunday night, when a whiteout halted their progress and sent them seeking shelter in the Sierra north of Lake Tahoe.
Agate Bay resident Steven Rainwater, 33, and Reno, Nev., residents Mark Sweet Sr., 45, and Mark Sweet Jr., 26, planned a one-day trip through the Rifle Peak area and found themselves cold and wet at the Glenshire General Store in east Truckee, almost 24 hours after their trip began.
Rainwater said they started their trip from Carnelian Bay along the old “Fibreboard Freeway” toward Bald Mountain. He said they cut across Highway 267 to snowmobile toward Rifle Peak, a 9,600-foot peak just north of Crystal Bay
At about 4:30 p.m., blizzard conditions hit with heavy snows and the three found themselves trapped in the whiteout, without any sense of direction.
“We lost our trail and decided to wait it out in a tree well,” Rainwater said. “We took turns tending to our fire.”
They used an empty Pepsi Cola can to hold gasoline from their tanks. They made wicks out of rope and ignited them with the sparks from a snowmobile spark plug.
“We knew nothing would blow up,” Sweet Jr. said. “We just needed something to burn.”
They kept themselves warm by setting piles of sticks on fire and making lanterns out of the Pepsi can and a starter fluid can. Their charred snowmobile suits were evidence of their attempts to warm themselves by makeshift fires.
Sweet Sr. said he stripped himself of his undergarments, soaked them in gasoline, packed them into the fluid can and set it on fire.
“It worked,” he said. “That’s all that matters.”
Their supplies consisted of one Snickers Bar, one orange, one banana and a salami and pepperjack cheese sandwich. They used a tool box as a water trough – scooping up snow and melting it into a drinkable state.
Their fires burned from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., when the first light broke and they could find their way through the Juniper Hills area above Glenshire. Without socks or underwear, Sweet Sr. made the two-hour trip to the general store, where they all arrived at about 9:45 a.m. Rainwater used his Ski-Doo to break trail, while the Sweets followed on their Polaris snowmobiles.
The Placer County Sheriff’s Office reported receiving the first missing persons report from Rainwater’s fiance. Members of the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team initiated a search by snowmobile, skis and snowcat at 9 p.m. and waited until daybreak to launch a helicopter search.
As the search organized on Monday morning, the three were making their way out of the highlands.
Placer County Sheriff Sgt. Bill Langton said their survival skills saved their lives.
“People participating in outdoor or backcountry activities, should pay attention to the weather in the area at the time,” he said in a prepared statement.
“This won’t stop us from future rides,” Rainwater said. “We go four-wheeling in the summer and have been through worse than this.”
Before leaving the general store, the three agreed their next ventures were to find hot showers.
Rainwater, who works in construction, jokingly said he really planned on being a snowmobile guide when he grew up. His friends agreed they were glad he hadn’t pursued that profession.
Both Sweets, Mark Sr., who works as an recreational vehicle mechanic in Carson City, Nev., and Mark Jr., who works at Smith’s Food and Drug Center in Carson City, said they were glad the trip was over, but were looking forward to snowmobiling again.
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Nevada County is now likely to remain in the red tier barring “extenuating circumstances,” thanks to changes to the state’s reopening blueprint announced this week.