Monday, February 21, 2011

Big mountain call-outs on the increase?

I have absolutely no statistical data on which to base this thought, so take it with a pinch of salt.

But I think that we're seeing an increase in the number of mountain search and rescues in Maine: call outs calling for mountain training, mountain experience, and mountain gear.

I think that the "normal" kind of search, for hunters and fishermen and kids in the relatively flat, relatively congenial woods of Maine have probably also increased over the years, but more recently the big mountains seem to have have seen more events, and more events calling for mountain rescue training, than before.

An example is this week's call-out for four students on Katahdin, which was a classic mountain rescue much like we might see in Scotland or the Alps.

I saw this same process unfold in Montana in the 1980s and early 1990s. As traditional sporting uses declined, new sports increased, including rock and ice-climbing, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, and alpine mountaineering. This led to new and different kinds of rescues for the old and fat members of Montana search and rescue teams.

(As an old and fat member of a Maine SAR team, formerly of a Montana team, I'm allowed to say this!)

This was a difficult time for SAR teams in Montana. A mountain rescuer needs to be a good deal more in shape and fit than a traditional flat-land SAR team member, and needs special skills, lots more training, and above all experience. It took a few years, several unnecessary deaths, and the founding of a local Mountain Rescue Association-sponsored team before Montana rescues systems were more equal to the task.

(The Mountain Rescue Association member teams' specialized mountain training may be contrasted to that of the more typical National Association for Search and Rescue teams.)

And when you send flat-landers up the big mountain, they may get hurt and die on the rescue.

Which should never happen because it contradicts Rule 2 of Mick's Four Rules of Rescue:

1) Rescue is a team game:
2) Nobody gets hurt.
3) One person is in charge at all times.
4) Everyone that goes, comes back together

The Rules expanded:

1) Rescue is a team game: No prima-donnas allowed. If you want to rescue your ego, go show off at the gym. We go together, or not at all.

2) Nobody gets hurt. Obviously, the casualty or victim is likely already hurt or perhaps even dead. That's already one too many. Team leaders and team members must make every effort to make sure that their team stays safe.

3) One person is in charge at all times. Too many voices ruin The Plan. Although that Team leader should listen to his team members.

4) Everyone that goes, comes back together. If you go up the mountain together, you come down the mountain together. If you go in the woods together, you come out of the woods together. If you can't see that last team member in line, you wait until you can. The party goes at the pace of the slowest person.