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FAQ: Clear to Lift

Clear to Lift
Q: Is there really a Death Couloir?
A: Yes. The Death Couloir is one of several names for the Northwest Couloir on Mount Morrison in the Sierra Nevada. It is also known as the Y Couloir and the Mendenhall Couloir, after John Mendenhall, who made the first ascent of the route in 1931. It is a mix of water ice and snow that is 1,600 feet in length. The first pitch of the route is the waterfall and this is the crux of the climb. Rockfall is definitely a problem on this route, just as it is in Clear to Lift.
Q: Were any of the rescues in the book based on your actual rescues?
A: The first two rescues were composites of various rescues and training scenarios. The last rescue was based on a flood rescue I was involved with in 1997. Because of heavier than normal snow fall that year, followed by warm rain, the snow melt caused flooding along the Merced, Walker, and Truckee Rivers. I’ll never forget the pictures of the Reno Airport underwater. They had their planes perched on little islands of dry ground in what looked like a lake. Yosemite flooded, too. In the book, much of the rescue scenario was a product of my imagination, but the set-up and a few key details are just as it happened.
Q: The book is partially set at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada. Why is there a navy base in the middle of the desert?
A: Great question. Several bombing ranges are located in the area around Fallon, and every carrier air wing has to go there to train for several weeks prior to deployment. Special Forces teams train there, too, along with combat search and rescue (CSAR) units. The wide-open skies and desert terrain really do make for an ideal training location. Top Gun is also located in Fallon.
Q: Is Erick Schat’s Bakkery a real place? If so, I want to go there.
A: I’m happy to report that yes, Erick Schat’s Bakkery is the real deal. It’s located in Bishop, California, on Main Street. Yes, you should go there.
Q: Did you fly with the search and rescue squadron in Fallon, the Longhorns? Did you really do what was described in the book?
A: I was stationed at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, for three years, and yes, much of what you read in the book was pretty typical for the Longhorns. Our primary job was to serve as the search and rescue asset for the military units training in Fallon, but the vast majority of our work was done with civilian authorities, like local county sheriffs. We worked all around the state of Nevada and up and down the Sierra Nevada in California. Without question, it was the best job I’ve ever had!