A phone call to a friend for help triggered a half-day rescue effort for two snowmobilers who became stuck in deep, wet snow west of Bend Thursday, losing their way and mistakenly crossing into the Three Sisters Wilderness Area, authorities said.
Deschutes County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue was notified around 11:30 a.m. by Ryan Fisher, 35, that he’d received a call from a friend, Ryell Masood, 27, of Bend. Masood said he and fellow snowmobiler Ryan Whitcomb, 31, also of Bend, had become stuck southwest of Moon Mountain and needed assistance with determining their location and the best route back to a trail, said Deputy Jim Whitcomb, assistant SAR coordinator (and of no relation to the missing party).
The provided GPS coordinates placed the riders inside the wilderness area, about ¾ of a mile north of Todd Lake and about the same distance west of the boundary, in the upper area of Soda Creek, officials said.
SAR officials contacted Masood, who confirmed they had traveled beyond the wilderness boundary and said they were not in need of medical help. He said they had been on their way down from Moon Mountain and lost their way, eventually getting stuck in deep, wet snow along a drainage.
Deputy Whitcomb said SAR officials advised Masood to avoid heading any further west or southwest, as that area’s steep terrain and dense trees would make any potential rescue more difficult.
Instead, the deputy said, they were told to try heading east and southeast, to reach Snowmobile Trail 7 – if they could get their machines freed.
Masood told rescuers they would try to free the snowmobiles and head in the suggested direction, providing updates by text message. But Whitcomb said they soon advised the efforts were fruitless and that they would need help getting out, due to the deep snow and their lack of snowshoes.
Three SAR members and a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer headed to the area on snowmobiles, bringing along extra snowshoes, Deputy Whitcomb said.
Meanwhile, an off-duty Forest Service wilderness ranger who had been backcountry skiing in the Tumalo Mountain area responded by skis and was able to find the pair’s snowmobile tracks, then guided other rescuers to the scene around 5:45 p.m.
The rescue crew snowshoed nearly a mile into the wilderness, with an elevation drop of about 600 feet, before reaching the snowmobilers, Whitcomb said.
They decided the snowmobiles would be left behind for the night, with a return trip and extrication planned Friday, assisted by the Forest Service.
Deputy Whitcomb said an initial investigation at the scene determined Masood and Ryan Whitcomb first became stuck around 9:30 a.m. After leaving Moon Mountain, dense fog had limited visibility as they rode along the wilderness boundary markers they had seen.
The pair crossed into the wilderness without knowing so at first, the deputy said, then become “over-committed” due to the steep downhill terrain in that area, which can draw a snowmobile down further in the wrong direction.
Masood and Ryan Whitcomb said they had become exhausted from their attempts to dig out the machines and had run out of food. They had no map with them, though the pair are experienced riders.
The snowmobilers were given snowmobile rides back to the Dutchman Flat parking lot after a difficult walk back up the path rescuers created, arriving around 8:45 p.m., Deputy Whitcomb said, adding that the Forest Service “will be conducting further investigation in this case.”