Cortez Rescue Team hikes Ruby Crest Trail | Mining

On Feb. 14 of this year, a Cortez Underground Rescue Team was called out and went to a scene that they hoped they would never encounter in all of their years of mining. A lube truck had gone over the edge of a stope and fell about 60 feet into the stope drift.

The woman driving the truck, Marissa Hill, had been a member of their Underground Rescue Team. 

The accident took place at 8:48 p.m. The time of Hill’s death was recorded as Feb. 15 at 5:56 p.m.

The time they spent on that accident scene took a toll on the members of the rescue team.

After doing some talking, five rescue team members decided to hike the Ruby Crest Trail together this summer. Four of the five men who went on the hike were part of the recovery party that went to the accident scene.

“We wanted to do something difficult and spend some time together and, almost like a debrief, get away and just kind of talk through life,” said Kris Pooley, one of the members of the rescue team. “And we did find the trail to be an escape.”

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Pooley is an electrician at the Cortez Gold Mine southwest of Carlin, and each of the rescue team members has a different job at the mine. Pooley used to be a paramedic in Las Vegas, and that’s what led to him join the rescue team when he came to work at the mine.

The Carlin mine has four different rescue crews, Pooley said. The crews go out on a total of about 180 calls a year, he said, but a lot of the calls are very minor. They may be called to do an evaluation of someone who has flu symptoms, or to check things out if there is smoke coming from a piece of equipment.

When they responded to the call in February they heard news that they did not want to hear.

“Doing the Ruby Crest Trail together is something therapeutic that we decided would help us with the burden of what we were called to do that day,” said Daniel Pruett, another member of the team.

The group spent four days on the trail. They started out on their hike on July 16 and returned on July 19.

Cortez Rescue Team hikers - 2

The Cortez Underground Rescue Team hikers at a scenic spot on the Ruby Crest Trail. From left, Kris Pooley in the foreground, and Daniel Pruett, Carlos Salas, Dustin Lindley and Josh Falagan.

The Ruby Crest Trail is considered a difficult hike that requires intermediate to advanced hiking skills. The trail was more challenging for the mine rescue group because Pooley is an amputee. In February 2021, after dealing with tumors that kept leaving him with fewer options, his left leg was amputated above the knee.

He has a prosthetic leg and used walking sticks to help with balance on the hike.

And Pooley is not an experienced hiker. He said he basically does zero hiking, and this was probably his first hike that was more than about five miles.

“I have done some research and can’t find any story of another amputee finishing the Ruby Crest Trail. Mr. Pooley may be the first” Pruett said. “We would all love for Mr. Pooley to get the recognition he deserves for completing the RCT.”

“It was definitely harder than anticipated,” Pooley said. “The trail was good, but just long days filled with constant movement.”

Their Ruby Crest Trail hike was about 35 miles, with elevations ranging from 7,200 feet to 10,893 feet. The daily hikes ranged from about five to 12 miles, depending on the location of the water stations.

“The pace in general of an amputee is significantly slower than everybody else,” Pooley said.

“Realistically, only one leg is doing the work,” he said. “I don’t have the knee to do the lifting on the one side. I don’t have the calf to shorten the heights for any of the climbing or the high stepping.”

“We definitely had a day where we were behind target to reach our water,” Pooley said. “We had to sit down and make some calculations to figure out the logistics behind it, if we were going to make it or if we needed to figure out something else. It got to a point where some of the hikers were gathering snow.

“We still had a small cushion, but much less than we were comfortable with, to be honest.”

The slow pace of the hike may have increased the quality of their time together.

“The pace was slow enough, honestly, that we could talk while we were hiking for 10 to 12 hours a day,” Pooley said. “And we had the nights to sit around and to kind of reflect and remember.”

“Everybody in the group, we had different reasons for going, but everybody in the group got what they wanted out of the experience, for sure.”

Cortez Rescue Team hikers - 4

Five members of the Cortez Underground Rescue Team hiked the Ruby Crest Trail in mid-July. From front to back, Daniel Pruett, Kris Pooley, Dustin Lindley, Josh Falagan and Carlos Salas.

The weather turned out to be pretty good throughout the hike.

“We got a nice overcast on our long, 12-mile day,” Pooley said. “It was definitely very warm, every day. When you’re at 10,000 feet the sun’s pretty grueling. Some of us got a little more sun than others. We came out, some people lost toenails and stuff on the trip. Blistered up good.”

The trail certainly wasn’t easy but it was a valuable experience, Pooley said.

“The whole point in general was just to do something hard, to overcome, and to disconnect, to kind of come back to center, get grounded again. To be away from the world for a bit.

“It gave us a chance to say goodbye and to remember a friend that we had that we lost.”

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