AUBURN — It’s midday, one of the hottest days of the year, and Brandon Hallam with the CHP Air Unit is about to dip out of the chopper, over a mountain chain in Fresno, where a hiker is immobile below.
Eleven-thousand feet in the air, if he doesn’t act quickly, the hiker will lose his leg.
“I think the video makes it look easy, but it’s definitely a stressful situation,” said Hallam, a flight officer paramedic.
Encounters like this are routine for Hallam.
And in July, the CHP Air Unit based in Auburn was called out 40 times for rescues — a number officials here call unprecedented.
“This has been the busiest month. I’ve been here four years and this has been the busiest month I’ve had since being in be unit.”
One reason, they believe, after a year of decent rainfall, our streams and rivers are full.
“It’s drawn more people up into the mountains. Outdoor activities, hiking, things that they normally wouldn’t do,” said Hallam.
“I have seen more people this year than in the past, especially a lot of hikers,” said Scott Clark, an avid biker.
Clark’s been biking through Auburn’s natural terrain for more than 15 years. He’s got a good handle on the trails by now, but says he can see how others with less experience here might not.
“Sometimes trails that are more remote, you could easily miss the trail,” said Clark.
If you are the adventurous type, drawn to more unchartered areas, they say it’s important to bring extra food and water, and be prepared to have to stay outdoors overnight.
Hallam says he’ll step up to the plate for any rescue.
“That expression that they give of pure relief, that they’ve been taken out of a situation that they thought they we’re never going to get out of is one of the main reasons I do the job,” Hallam said.
But with a little planning, he says, you won’t have to rely on his heroics to get out of the mountains.