Senior member of Yosemite National Park’s Search and Rescue team Josie McKee is an Unsung Hero

Senior member of Yosemite National Park’s Search and Rescue team Josie McKee is an Unsung Hero

To me, hard work means challenge and it’s both physical labor as well as mental work and trying to combine those things to overcome obstacles. You have to be aware of everything that’s going on. You can’t let anything distract you or it can have really dangerous repercussions. The first time I went to Yosemite, I remember driving in to Yosemite Valley and watched the wall of El Capitan get lit up. I still will drive in and be struck with that same sense of awe that I felt the first time. It’s a magical place. My name is Josie McKee. I have worked on Yosemite Search and Rescue Team for three seasons, the busy season in the park when most rescues wind up happening. Our team is made up of a bunch of highly trained technical specialists because we end up doing a bunch of high angle rescues. The grand nature of the walls in Yosemite lends itself to really needing people that are proficient. Back in the ’60’s, the rangers really didn’t know what to do when people got injured. They started pulling in just rock climbers to help them on rescues and that was the beginning of getting our team started. Being able to get selected to be a member of that team was a really big goal in my life. I grew up up in Pescadero, just a little ways north of Santa Cruz. I think I started climbing at the gym when I was 10. My fear of heights was extreme and I remember saying repeatedly: “I’m going to die, I’m going to die” and having this full panic moment. As soon as I’m on the ground, I like forgot that feeling. I’m like “this is rad, I want to go back up there.” I think that’s what drove me to climbing, was that challenge. There’s definitely sacrifices I make in my personal life in order to work on Yosemite Search and Rescue. You have to be within a 30-minute response time. I swear a call goes out when I’m about to make dinner, every time. The visitation of the park ramps up hugely in those months of May and June. That’s when we wind up getting the most rescues. People get injured, people get killed out there and to be able to help them out because I have this skill set is super important. Sometimes we’ll respond to emergencies that you know, somebody’s in a life threatening situation. And then other times, you’re searching for somebody that is likely dead. Trying to keep that positive mental state while you’re working is important. To go back and know that you’re going to get some call that you’re going to have to go pull a body out of a river again. Things just hurt a little bit more when you do see something bad happen to a fellow human being. Working on Search and Rescue exposed me to death a lot more than people than most people get exposed to it and so I appreciate that in my work even though it has been traumatizing at times, but I think it also gave me a little bit of an ability to cope with the deaths of people that are close to me. My mom always inspired positivity, just always looking at the bright side of things. She was a really strong woman, super inspirational, really good role model. Something that I deal with in losing my mom was trying to deal with emotions and recognize that even sadness is an important part of being alive and it’s those lows that make you appreciate the highs as well and I think that kind of helps me get through the trauma of it. Yosemite is home and I think after years of being there, It’s an amazing community, it’s about the people, it’s about the place, like all of those aspects of it are near and dear to my heart. I remember this Albert Einstein quote that my mom used to share: “there are two ways in which you can live: one is if nothing is a miracle, the other is if everything is a miracle.”