Taylor Murray Saves the Day – Capital High School Junior Part of Search and Rescue



By Tom Rohrer

papa johns logoWhen lives are at stake in the vast wilderness of Washington State, one local high school junior may be involved in the rescue.

Taylor Murray, a sixteen year old junior at Capital High School, recently played a vital role in the rescue of two hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail near Mount Adams in Skamania County.

A member of the Thurston County Washington Explorer Search and Rescue (TCWSAR) team since 2012, Murray and the rest of the team was notified of a stranded hiker near Big Lava Beds, an area of Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  The team was asked to assist in the hiker’s rescue, but their mission was quickly changed to assisting two cold, hungry and wet hikers near Trout Lake, located south of Mount Adams.

washington search and rescue
Capital High School junior, Taylor Murray, is a member of the Thurston County Washington Explorer Search and Rescue team.

After facing severe weather, injuries to their rescue team, and a collection of other issues, the two hikers were flown to Portland by a Coast Guard Helicopter, and Murray, along with the rest of her team, was flown to safety as well.

“I’m very happy that the hikers were found and are safe.  It was a dangerous situation and I’m glad we made it out safely,” said Murray in a phone interview with ThurstonTalk.com.

After the TCWSAR leader was notified their help was needed in the search, the team had to move quickly.  Murray was made aware of the situation on Monday, Sept. 30, around 6 p.m.  The team assembled and began traveling to the closest trailhead to the location of the missing hikers, leaving at 4 a.m. and arriving on scene at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 1.

According to Murray, a local sheriff notified the team that the trail’s snow levels were below a foot.  They were also told that they would reach the stranded hikers in about 2.5 miles.  Weather conditions, however, made these conditions much more challenging than originally predicted.

“Once we started, we realized the trail was a lot longer and that there was a lot more snow then we originally thought,” said Murray.  “We had communication issues with base and no cell phone service.  Those things alone made it very difficult.”

There would other difficulties as well.  One of Murray’s male counterparts broke his leg on the trail.  This meant, in the challenging, blizzard-like conditions, that the team would not be able to climb back down the mountain, and would have to be flown out by helicopter themselves.

After hiking to within a mile of the stranded hikers, three TCWESAR members went on to find and locate the subjects.  The rest of the team, including Murray, located a wide open space where a helicopter could reach the team and injured rescuer.

“We were all suffering through varying degrees of hypothermia, and with the day getting later, we had to make a shelter.  We had gained about 3,200 feet in elevation and didn’t have snowshoes,” said Murray, who is in the process of becoming a certified volunteer for the American Red Cross.  “Our survival situation training came in handy.  We were able to make a shelter, make a fire, change clothes.  We knew exactly what to do.”

After the Coast Guard rescued the missing hikers and those who had gone on in search of them, the helicopter hovered above Murray and the rest of the team.  One by one, the rescuers were raised to the helicopter in a basket around 8 p.m. Tuesday before eventually being flown to Portland.

washington search and rescue
A search and rescue team, including 16-year-old Taylor Murray, traveled more than 2.5 miles to rescue two stranded hikers.

Murray had lost her cell phone during the mission and was unable to reach her parents for a significant portion of time.  After an ordeal lasting more than 12 hours, Murray was finally able to let her parents, Tanya and Dan, know that she was safe.

“They were very happy that I was all right and that we had rescued the hikers,” said Murray.  “There was a lot of relief.”

How did this sixteen year old become involved with search and rescue?  It all started when a family friend suggested it to her last summer.  After attending an informational session, Murray was hooked.  She had grown up hiking, camping, and kayaking with her family, and already had an interest in volunteering and medicine.

“I wanted to do something not everyone has a chance to do,” said Murray.

An immense amount of training was required of Murray before she came certified.  This included weekly classroom training sessions and five weekend training sessions, essentially overnight classes performed at Boy Scouts of America Camp Thunderbird located at Summit Lake.  These sessions required Murray and the rest of the team to navigate through the woods, find specific check points, perform safety and survival activities at each check point, and find their way back to the starting point.

Skills included making fire, constructing shelters with forest materials, evaluating risk and evacuating, among many others.

Just a few days after she assisted with missing hikers, Murray completed her first Team Leader Training Session, which differs from the process she went through in 2012.

“Since I first got certified last year, I’ve had 285 community service hours through Search and Rescue,” noted Murray.

After completing the second course of the certification process, Murray had to pass course three, a huge mock search.    Her skills gained from that course carried over to the real life rescue situation this past week.

“All your training comes back to you quickly.  We are trained meticulously and it’s necessary,” said Murray.  “This past week is a great example of that.”

washington search and rescue
Murray notes that anyone over the age of 14 can participate in search and rescue training.

Murray noted she has been involved in four non-simulation search and rescue situations prior to this past week, but nothing as severe as the Trout Lake mission.

“We were informed that the hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail, had a lack of food, possessed no supplies and were cold, wet, and wanted to go home.  I’m normally the first aid person on team, that’s what I do. I wanted to gather an extra change of clothing and I made sure we had the needed medical supplies for hypothermia, and a plan on how to get them out,” said Murray.  “The training we have had, it helps us focus and stay calm and react accordingly.”

While there are other high school aged teenagers on the search and rescue team, Murray is one of few females on the squad.  However, gender means nothing in survival situations and on the TCWSAR team.

“It’s mostly males, but that doesn’t play an issue,” said Murray.  “We’re like a family.” Murray was proud of her ‘family’ following last week’s rescue. “My team gave it their all, really they gave it 110 percent,” said Murray. “I think we did a really great job of handling everything that we faced.”

If you face danger in the wild, know that Taylor Murray will do everything she can to save the day.

Murray notes that anyone over the age of 14 can participate in training.  For more information on the Thurston County Washington Search and Rescue Team, visit http://www.thurstoncountysar.org/ or email the team at tcwesar@comcast.net.


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