Sitka Mountain Rescue
330 Harbor Drive
Sitka, Alaska 99835
I have been a believer in McHale Packs since November 2000 when I purchased a 98 Inex bayonet from you. I am a 22 year member of the Sitka Mountain Rescue Team and have used the Inex extensively on mountain rescue missions in SE Alaska for the past seven years. My McHale goes everywhere with me. It is the most comfortable pack I have ever owned and carries heavy loads far better than any pack on the market.
I had a noteworthy incident with my McHale recently that tested the durability of the pack. The results were very impressive.
On a recent mountain rescue mission I had a terrifying experience when my McHale disappeared on a deployment from a Coast Guard Air Station Sitka HH-60 helicopter. Our team was responding to a mission 20 miles north of Sitka, Alaska. The weather was terrible and a couple of goat hunters were hypothermic, out of food and in need of rescue. The ceilings were down preventing an airlift from the Coast Guard. I was the leader of a mountain rescue team being deployed as high as possible by helicopter. We flew to the 2800' level on a steep ridge and were briefed for deployment. The crew of the helicopter landed on a small ledge. The flight mechanic directed us to hand our packs to him and he tossed them on the ground prior to our exiting the aircraft. The wheels of the aircraft were on the ground but the crew still maintained some lift which generated the standard hurricane force winds from the rotor wash. I had 73 pounds of gear in my Inex at the time. Prior to exiting the aircraft the Rescue Swimmer motioned to me with his hand in a circular motion trying to communicate something which I didn't understand until a short time later. I was the first to exit the aircraft and was horrified to find my McHale gone, nowhere in sight. The rotors were so close to the rock on the mountain that we were unable to exit the rotor arch after exiting the door of the aircraft. We were instructed to lie down just outside the door until the helicopter took off. I must admit, the thought of losing my McHale caused my stomach to knot. After the CG took off we started searching for my pack. I understood then what the rescue swimmer had attempted to tell me with his hand gestures, my McHale had tumbled down the steep mountain. The alpine terrain was very steep with mixed screed slopes and vertical drops. I was continuing to descend looking for my McHale when the CG radioed and asked if we had located all of our packs. I responded that we were still missing one. The Helicopter crew relayed that they would return and assist us in locating the pack from the air. I started to fear the worst. I was now three hundred feet in elevation below our deployment location and was standing at the top of a 400' vertical drop with a talus slope run out at the bottom. My McHale was still not visible. I couldn't imagine any pack being intact after a fall like that with 73 pounds of gear in it. My Bibler Tent, Mountain Hardware Sleeping bag, and full gear sling all of which I'm partial too as well as all my essential gear to be on a multi day rescue mission were in my pack. Visions of my gear scattered all over the mountain started to go through my mind. I figured I'd be searching for my gear for hours which would take me out of the mission or I'd have to rely on my team members to take care of me with their gear.
The Coast Guard flew back up the valley and started hovering in the bottom of the valley. I radioed them and informed them that my pack had to be below me on my side of the valley. The response I got from them shocked me! They stated, "We've located your pack and are hovering directly above it at this time." I couldn't believe it had gone that far. The CG informed me that since my McHale was so far down in the valley that they would recover it and deliver it by hoist back at the deployment location. I could only imagine getting this shredded piece of material back without my gear. The McHale had gone over 1000 vertical feet down the mountain side free falling a good portion of that and landed in a small stream in the valley floor. I took a photo of the CG direct deployment recovery of my McHale pack. It is a beautiful sight, knowing what I know now.
A short time later I was reunited with my McHale at the deployment location and much to my surprise all of my gear was still in the pack!! Unbelievable!! The only visible damage was to the top pouch of the pack where my Ice Axe, which was secured on the outside of the pack, had put a six inch tear in the material. Amazingly all the contents of the top pocket still remained including a $1000.00 Motorola Radio. The zipper on that top pocket had held and didn't open as well, great zipper locking feature! Amazingly the only thing that was destroyed was a Mountain House Beef Stroganoff Meal and my granola bars which exploded inside the pack. When I pulled my Black Diamond headlamp from the pack the insides of the lamp rattled but further inspection showed that the two pin LED bulb had unplugged which took some major force to do. I plugged the bulb in and it worked. In fact, I shouldered my McHale and finished the mission. It felt as good as it always has. I inspected the pack when I returned home and the material, frame, suspension, zippers and buckles were all intact and the only visible damage that I could find was the tear that was caused by my Ice Axe. There is not another pack out there that would perform as well in a durability test!
I would never recommend dropping a pack 1000' down a mountain but if you do make sure it is a McHale! Just another day at the office for a McHale pack!!
Director, Sitka Mountain Rescue