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Ranger Ingenuity 401 - Horse Rescued from Canyon at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Rescue of horse from canyon.

Rescuers prepare to release "Dakota" after his safe return to the trail. Photo courtesy of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.

Urban firefighters have long been plagued by calls to rescue cats stranded in trees, but rangers at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in northern California recently had a much bigger challenge: how to rescue an 1100-pound horse stranded in a canyon.

The tale began on the afternoon of May 29th, when a horse was spooked, ran away from its owner, and headed north into the park. The animal found a spot that provided access to Clear Creek, and by a combination of walking and swimming made its way downstream into a canyon area with steep hillsides on each side of the river.

Two fishermen spotted the horse, led it to shore, and were able to contact Tammy Dickens, the animal's owner. Ms. Dickens tried three times to lead the horse, named "Dakota," up the hillside, but the slope proved to be too steep.

Rangers were called for assistance, and when they arrived, found the horse on a ledge about 40 feet below the trail along Clear Creek. The rangers constructed a haul line system and one attempt was made to raise the 1100-pound horse before dark, but the horse was too exhausted to climb during the raising attempt. Rescue efforts were discontinued until the next morning.

Dickens tended her horse through the night, and rangers returned in the morning and rigged a haul system to safely pull the horse up the slope. They were assisted by a veterinarian, a county animal regulations supervisor, and a county officer. After on-site instruction, several bystanders and family members assisted with the hauling operation.

At about 11 a.m., “Dakota” was successfully raised up the 50-60 degree, 40-foot-high slope. The horse was then able to walk back to the trailhead without further assistance.

The Incident Commander for the operation, which is probably not covered in most high-angle rescue training courses, was Chris Mengel; the custom horse harness builder was Charles Hardy.

Most of us field the "how was your day at work?" question from time to time, but this successful operation is my nominee for the Unique Job of the Week.


If anyone can handle a job like this, it's PARK RANGERS!

You Rangers Rock!

Well done! True, this type of operation is not covered in Rescue Systems 1 or 2, but there is training available through CA State Fire Training. The name of the course is "Large Animal Rescue- Operations", a technical rescue course designed for emergency responders to resolve these types of incidents.

Keep up the great work!

THAT is what we call keeping it simple and doing a great job!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Congratulations - and Anonymous is correct - there is training for this - and a text book in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue....

Thanks for sharing the photos and story!
Dr. Rebecca Gimenez

There could not have been a better choice that to Chris Mengel supervise this operation. He has the talent, experience and coolness to get a large project like this completed safely with out further incident.

Marty McCaslin

Very cool. Ingenuity is rare in our everyday life. Good job by all. I can only imagine the wittisms Ranger Mengel uttered.

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