CHP Helicopter Rescues Wilderness Guide from Rugged Terrain Near Foresthill

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FORESTHILL -- The adventure Chris Hammond had in mind when he set out Saturday morning didn't include being strapped to the belly of a police helicopter.

"I'm under there, and I can't believe this is happening to me,'" Hammond said, laughing.

Hammond is a wilderness guide, and the hike he'd planned with a local fishing reporter took them over some rough terrain. To make it to their target, a stretch of the American River that was opening for trout season, they'd have to traverse thickets and brambles, boulders and rapids. They even crossed paths with a rattlesnake.

But in the end, it was the heat that got to Hammond.

"Especially with that type of terrain being so rugged, it's very easy to get dehydrated and to get heat exhaustion," said Officer Mark Flores of the California Highway Patrol Valley Division.

Chris started having trouble staying on his feet. He fell a couple of times and scraped up his legs.

"As I went up the canyon, about three-fourths of the way, I started getting heat stroke. The heat stroke started causing dizziness and some vertigo," Hammond said.

The realization started to set in that he's wasn't going to be walking out of the canyon that day.

"Inside, I caved. It's like, 'I need assistance. And I've never needed assistance before.' So there were a lot of emotions," Hammond said.

His fishing partner found him and called for help. Park rangers, firefighter rescue personnel and eventually the California Highway Patrol's flight operations responded. The decision was made to airlift Hammond to safety.

"It was pretty windy in the canyon, and that was something the pilot and I talked about beforehand. We noticed the winds and made a game-plan," Flores said.

Hammond says it was a ride like none he's ever had before.

"They put you on a flat board and tape your head down to the board, and they zip you up. You realize you're immobilized," Hammond said. "And you're like 'oh this is going to be an experience.' The helicopter is hovering over you, and there is debris floating around. You know why you're wearing goggles now."

He has a renewed respect, he says, for rescue personnel in Auburn.

"They showed me the utmost care. Even the whole time into the emergency room, I had a CHP officer with his hand on my shoulder," Hammond said.

He says it's all reinforced a lesson he learned a long time ago in those canyons: Life is precious; measure it by the minutes and not the days, because you never know.