A- A+

Hopeful Heights – Supporting the Selfless

Hopeful Heights

October 13, 2023

I remember vividly the moment I learned my son had not returned from a hike in the San Bernardino Mountains of California. It was like time instantly froze for me, the world caved in around me, yet I could see for others, their lives kept moving. Every movement was now just one task that led to another with only one goal in mind, to get to my son. I packed my bags and was on a flight within three hours.

For the next five days, I watched as search and rescue tried to locate Eric and his coworker, Gabrielle. I wanted to talk to each and every team member and thank them for their time, but I also wanted to stay out of their way. It was at the end of the fifth day that search and rescue located Eric and Gabrielle and extracted them by chopper. They were tired and a bit thinner than I had seen them last, but they were alive and once again safe.

SAR Team at Work

A Thank You to Volunteer Search + Rescue Teams

When a rescue operation ends, all the teams seem to disappear very quickly. There was no opportunity for me to say thank you to all these selfless people whom I had learned are all volunteers, taking time away from their own work and families to search for my son. It was then I knew I needed to tell our story, the story of what Eric had done to survive in the mountains with little food and no proper gear to stay warm or navigate the technical canyon in which he had found himself. Our story is their story, each volunteer search and rescue team sacrifices their own time and safety for others.

I decided the best way to share our story was to write a book, “Two Trails: A Hiker’s Story of Survival and His Mother’s Story of Hope.” It details Eric’s story of survival and his family’s roller coaster of emotions while waiting to hear if Eric was alive. It was written to honor and share the incredible selflessness and commitment of volunteer search and rescue (SAR) teams.

In the Mountains

About Hopeful Heights

Through my family’s experience and ongoing gratitude for the volunteer SAR teams, we started Hopeful Heights, a nonprofit organization that is committed to supporting these selfless heroes. Search and Rescue is a way of life for them. We go to a movie, out to dinner or to a ballgame. They go to a skills training, a certification training or out on rescue calls, oftentimes in the middle of the night. These volunteers don’t make it home at night to have dinner with their families or tuck their children in at night. They are out searching for a complete stranger in the hopes of finding them and keeping them safe. And what is it that they ask in return? Absolutely nothing.

Group Photo 

Much of the gear rescuers use is provided for them by their team; however, much is not. Depending on where they are located, many spend $2,000-$3,000 a year and more on additional equipment. Some teams are very successful in raising their own funds to pay for those costs, but most need assistance with additional costs for training and gear. It Is the mission of Hopeful Heights to assist with the funds required for SAR volunteers to purchase the gear that keeps them safe while on missions that benefit us all.

Looking for tools to help grow your startup or small business? Visit the Small Business Resources Hub to find the information you need, including connections through a Resource Compass and Business Counseling through the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s network.

Karen Ziebarth

Karen Ziebarth moved to Central Iowa in 1991. She resides in Adel, Iowa, where she runs a small business, enjoys time with her family and enjoys the outdoors. Karen visits national parks yearly with her sons and has a goal of visiting all 63.