Two weeks ago my Search and Rescue team practiced a highly complicated technique known as a highline during our training at Deep Creek. Basically a highline is a rope across a canyon on which a litter and attendant can move both vertically and horizontally.
We started the day by lugging the huge amount of gear a highline requires to our destination. This gear included over a thousand feet of rope, over 50 pounds of hardware, rock protection, webbing, the litter and our personal packs.
This training was different from our usual highline training because one of our teammates was shooting photos on rope. We rigged a separate system for him about 10 feet above the highline so he could get a good angle.
The first part of rigging the highline was getting the rope across the gap. To do this we employed a giant slingshot that we used to launch a little buckshot filled bag. The bag is connected to a high strength kevlar thread. Once this is across we attached it to a heave line which we attached to the thread. We then reeled it back in using fishing pole. That line was then attached to the ropes which we sent back and attached to an anchor.
Once we had the track line rigged we rigged another line through a pulley at the far anchor. Then brought it back to a very large pulley called a kootenay which is where the litter hung from. This line was used to pull the litter out away from the haul team.
Another line was attached to the other side of the kootenay to pull it back towards the haul team. Finally one very long line was connected through the kootenay and down to the litter on a pulley. This line was the reave line and was be used to raise and lower the litter.
As you can probably tell this was a complicated system. It saw strength levels not normally seen in a standard rescue system so certain special features like high-strength tie-offs were used. High strength tie-offs use two prussiks (basically loops or rope wrapped around a larger rope) to increase the strength of anchor point tie ins.
Running the system was also non-trivial as the haul team had to respond to commands other than just up down and stop. They also had to to move the patient and attendant horizontally.
At the end of the day we actually did a great job of rigging everything and got set up in a reasonable amount of time. Especially considering that we also needed to rig a separate system for our photographer.
Hanging from a highline Mark Kinsey works as a litter attendant during a training session for the San Bernardino Sheriff's Cave Rescue Team
More photos after the jump...
Recently I took a trip that included 300 feet of rappels to the bottom of Cave of The Winding Stair. My Search and Rescue Team specializes in Cave Rescue. Every few months we do our best to train in-cave.
Last month we headed out to the Providence Mountains in the Mojave National Preserve. After camping overnight, we met up with some folks for the Barstow Mine Rescue Team for our joint in-cave-familiarization training (video of our previous joint training, in-mine). We then made our way on a relatively rough 4WD trail to the cave parking lot.
Being that we were doing a rescue scenario, we had to hump a good deal of gear. The trail is less than a mile long, but up the whole way. I prefer walking up-trail before caving. Walking up-trail caving is no fun.
Once inside the cave we split into two groups. The first group, which I was part of, was comprised of people who had never been in Cave of the Winding Stair. Our goal was to rappel down to the bottom and ascend back up while the second team prepared the rigging for the rescue scenario.
John Norman led our group, having been in the cave many times. He rigged each of the 3 drops and we rappelled down after him. The final drop was a 130 foot free hanging rappel. Fun!
We made it to the bottom of the last rappel in roughly two hours. Once there we climbed down to the lowest point of the cave and signed the register. After climbing back up to the main room we rested, snacked and then begun our ascent.
Rappelling is easy, you just go down the rope. Ascending is hard work. I use the Frog System which works well for tight squeezes and passing knots and rebelays. It's a real workout going straight up a rope, and even more challenging to go over an edge or through a squeeze. Either way, though, it was good fun.
As you can see in the photo below, I was wearing shorts. I probably should have worn pants as the rope ended up giving me an abrasion on my leg that made the final ascents painful.
Once we were back at the top of the cave in a section called "The Office", the second group had finished rigging the rescue scenario. To make things a bit more... interesting, we had two photographers from the Sheriff's department with us. We rigged a separate system for them which included an interesting winch-like device called a paillardet. The paillardet is great for raising and lowering a single-person load, but it weighs a ton.
We ran the rescue scenario successfully, pulling our mock patient, a litter attendant and both photographers out of the cave. Unfortunately I didn't get a free ride out!
Caving is great fun and I highly recommend it as long as your aren't afraid of tight spaces, the dark, spiders, bats, heights, exposure or getting dirty.
This photo taken by my teammate Jen Hopper shows me hanging at the bottom of a 130 foot rappel in Cave of the Winding Stair.
Yesterday I climbed a roughly 14,000 foot tall mountain in search of a missing hiker. As I've mentioned previously I am a Search and Rescue volunteer. The mission yesterday was my most physically demanding search so far.
Because Bishop is roughly 5 hours from Downtown Los Angeles I had to be up at 3:00 a.m. and on the road by 4:00. I threw my winter alpine, cave and 24-hour gear in the FJ and headed out to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office/Jail where we store our trucks and team gear.
At the SO I met up with John Norman and Mark Kinsey and we promptly hit the road to Bishop. Four hours later we were in Bishop and were given details about the missing hiker we would be searching for. We then proceeded to hurry up and wait (standard SAR operating procedure) for an assignment.
Finally around noon Kinsey and I were tasked with ascending Mount Agassiz to check the summit registry. The missing hiker always signed registries. If we didn't find his signature in the log we would effectively be narrowing the search area.
The Forest Service was running helicopter transport to our insertion point. They requested that we don Nomex flight suits as a precautionary measure, one which we've never had to do before. Once in our suits they dropped Kinsey and I off one at a time in Bishop Pass.
Bishop Pass is at an elevation of roughly 12,000 feet. Just a few hours earlier we had been at sea level. To say we didn't have much time to acclimate to the altitude would be a slight understatement.
We began our ascent of the western face of Mount Agassiz at 1:00 p.m. On the map and as the crow flies, the distance from the base to the peak is only about a kilometer. Of course that doesn't include the 2,000 vertical feet included in the walk up.
2,000 vertical feet in under a mile wouldn't be too bad if there was a nice trail up. Mount Agassiz has no trail, and every step of the way is on top of loose boulders ranging in size from gravel to VW Bus.
We made our way to the top in a little under 3 hours carrying 35 pound packs. The thin air had us stopping frequently to catch our breath. The loose rock made the ascent unnerving, especially when stepping on a large boulder caused it to shift.
Once we were at the summit we took photos of the register, snacked and then radioed in to the Command Post. They informed us that if we wanted a helicopter extraction we would need to be back down to the Landing Zone by 6:00 p.m. We radioed back our concern that we may need to push it to 6:30 or later. They told us that 6:30 was the latest we could be extracted.
We started on the descent, thinking that it would be faster on the way down. As it turned out it, scrambling down the loose boulders was more difficult than climbing up. When you step up on a giant boulder and it starts to move, you can simply unweight it. When you step down on a boulder and it moves you have already committed yourself and you can't just jump backwards uphill.
At one point I stepped onto a boulder the size of a refrigerator and it slid about 3 feet down the mountain. I surfed it until it stopped and quickly hopped to the side. That was interesting.
About half way down we called in to base and asked if there was any way we could be extracted later than 6:30. They said no. We decided to pick up the pace.
We ended up making it back to the landing zone right around 6:45. Lucky for us, the helicopter was running late. We threw on our Nomes flight suits just in time to catch a ride down the mountain.
Inyo Country SAR treated Kinsey and I to a nice dinner in Bishop and then we drove back to San Bernardino. I ended up getting home at roughly 3:00 a.m.
The mission was extremely taxing physically. Ideally we would have started our ascent closer to 9:00 a.m. Either way it was a great mission, although unfortunately we did not find the missing hiker. Hopefully he is ok and will be found safe and sound.
Update 2: Unfortunately DeVan did not make it. His body was discovered today.
The view from Mount Agassiz as seen on July 7th during a search for a missing hiker.
More photos after the fold...
This weekend my Search and Rescue Team did a joint training in Calico with the Barstow Mine Rescue team. Here is a video put together by one of our team members, Jeff Lehman:
On Friday night a text message came in informing me that our scheduled training / certification was on hold due to a search call-out. I headed out to San Bernardino to the Sheriff's Office / Jail where we store our team gear. We camped on the floor of the SO's conference room and headed up to Mount Baldy at 4:30 AM.
At around 6:00 AM we were given our assignments. I was assigned team leader for the first time. Our assignment involved riding up the chair lifts to the top of the Mt. Baldy ski area and then hiking down through Cedar Canyon to the Icehouse Canyon Trail [see the red track in the image above].
For the first half of the hike down we wore our crampons due to the slippery (although not treacherous) conditions. For the second half of our mission we walked on south facing scree slopes and boulder fields that had only small patches of snow covering them.
It was a good hike, although our roughly 50 pound packs made the trip physically taxing. When we finally hit an actual trail instead of just hiking through a drainage, it was a welcome relief. Unfortunately our team didn't find the subject. According to this article his body was found by two hikers.
As I mentioned on Tuesday, my Search and Rescue team got called out. I am a member of the San Bernardino Sheriff's Cave Rescue Team, although we don't put out fires we have assisted with evacuations and security during fires in the past, notably the large fires 4 years ago, a year before I joined the team.
Yesterday at about 0400 I hit the road and drove out to the shipping container that is our gear storage shed, where I met Sonny Lawerence. We picked up the Sheriff's vehicle and headed up to the operation center in Twin Peaks where we were briefed and given our mission.
Our assigned task was to patrol the commercial districts of Crestline and Rim Forest looking for looters. If we saw anything odd happening we were instructed to call in to the command post on the 800MHz radio. We were issued Nomex shirts and rubber goggles, along with an 800MHz HT to compliment our 800MHz mobile in the truck.
We began our mission after a eating a county-catered breakfast. I spent the day driving around slowly between the two tiny commercial strips of Crestline and Rim Forest. In Rim Forest we saw a guy with his pickup trucked backed up to a hardware store and another guy inside. We called it in, and as we were waiting for the Sheriff's Deputies to come the guy in the pickup took off. One of the Deputies knew that guy inside who was the owner. Other than that our day was uneventful, although I did get some cool shots of Tanker Helicopters sucking up water from Lake Gregory:
We didn't get too close to the fire, here is a photo of the Grass Valley fire:
And here is a photo of the Slide Fire:
I just got paged. Tomorrow at 0600 I'll be at the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Station. I'm not a firefighter, I do Search and Rescue, so obviously I won't be putting out any fires. I will most likely be doing evacuations. I'll post an update tomorrow when I get back, and I may also be twittering. I'm also going to try and get some photos of the action.
Last night I got an email from the commander of the Search and Rescue (SAR) team that I am a part of, about a mutual-aid callout on San Jacinto for a missing hiker. I got the call at about 2230 and quickly responded that I would be there. I got about 4 hours of sleep as I had to wake up at 0330 in order to be at the Sheriff's Office at 0500 to pick up one of the Sheriff's vehicles and drive to the base of the tram by 0600 hours. I am not normally one to be on time, but when it comes to searches it is important to be punctual as someone's life is on the line.
At the briefing my teammate Mark Kinsey and I got our mission which entailed us riding up to the San Jacinto peak on Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's gargantuan Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King known as Air Rescue 5 then riding the hoist down to the summit and then hiking cross country through the west side of San Jacinto and eventually coming to a trail that would take us to the tram. I was excited about riding in a helicopter, as the last time I had the pleasure of rotor based travel I was in Search and Rescue in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Zipping down from a hovering helicopter on a piece of aircraft cable attached to my seat harness whilst carrying my 24 hour pack was quite a rush. Once I was on the peak and I unclipped from the hoist I snapped a few photos of the bird and Mark and I made our way across the ridge.
The mission was supposed to be technical so we kept our harnesses on, but we never ended up needing them apart from the helicopter bit. It was really just bouldering for the first mile or so until we turned down towards the saddle between two peaks, at which point we had to walk on top of dense brush for about another 1/2 mile dropping several hundred vertical feet. After the brush it was fairly easy going for the next couple of miles until we hit more dense brush and it started raining. Despite the rain and the brush we made good time and soon enough we were on a real trail. We double-timed it back to the tram and made our way down to the command post for debriefing at around 1530.
We didn't find any tracks or signs of the missing subject, but hopefully other teams will find him tomorrow. [You can find the rest of the photos here]
Update They found him and he is ok!
I have taken some photos of what goes inside an winter alpine SAR pack and posted them on flickr along with notes of what each item is. Click on the following pictures to see the notes:
I will be posting a write-up about the SAR mission on Monday sometime later today.
I'm going to bed as soon as I am done typing this because I am waking up around 4:00 am tomorrow to go search for a missing Danish hiker in the snow on San Jacinto. I am looking forward to this mission and to getting out in the snow. The tram ride is always fun, too. I'll take some pictures with my SD550 so you can see how it went.
Tomorrow is the start of a 2 weekend course I am taking for Search and Rescue called Technical Rescue Basics Course. I have read through the course material and none of it is new to me, but I am sure I will learn something from the course. I am bringing all 3 duffel bags of my SAR gear with me because there are always call outs during trainings; some sort of strange Murphy's Law deal. This weekend is all classroom time and next weekend is the field training which should be fun.
This weekend our SAR team had a two part training scheduled. The first part was Helitac training in which we were to learn about how to deal with helicopters in the search. We got about half an hour in to it when our team leader received a call from the Volunteer Forces coordinator. There was a need for alpine trained rescuers on Mt. Baldy for a patient evac. Being that 90% of our team is trained for Alpine rescue we responded and drove to the command post at the Mt. Baldy trailhead where we readied our gear. We were about to head up the trail when we heard on the radio that LA's rescue 5 chopper had successfully evac'ed the patient.
We decided to do the second part of our training, Cauhilla Creek Cave, which is near Temecula. This was a fun talus cave that is about a mile hike from the road. We had a reporter and a cameraman with us and I think they enjoyed themselves. It will be interesting to read the article.
At the end of the day we received verification on the possibility that we would be needed for a search for a missing woman in Indio. The call entailed us showing up at the command post in indio at 0630 which required us to leave the Sheriff's Office in San Bernardino at 0500. This meant that I would have to wake up a 0345... joy! So after about 4 short hours of sleep I jumped out of bed and into my car and drove to San Bernardino.
We showed up on time at the CP in Indio and feasted on some egg mcmuffins, yum. After the briefing we were assigned an area to search and we drove out and started searching. We searched for about 4 hours when we were called back to the CP where they said they needed Alpine certified rescuers to find some lost Boy Scouts on San Jacinto. Once our gear was ready and we were about to leave we were notified that the scouts were found and were being pulled of the mountain.
We then ate lunch and continued our search for the missing woman. After a few more hours of looking for her in the hot sun and not finding her we were called back. It was a long weekend and I was tired. I fell asleep as soon as me head hit the pillow.
From the letter:
Montrail has received some reports of breakage on the Kumbu and I.C.E. 9 crampons. No injuries have been reported. Thhe breakage occured in the vertical reails of the forefoot portion of the crapon just aft of the point array. When the crampon breaks in this way, it will no longer remain attached to the boot or the function as a traction device on snow and ice and and could result in serious injury to the user.
You can call for an RMA#: 800-826-1598 M-F 8-5PST or email custservice [at] montrail [dot] com.
Montrail will provide postage and several reimbursement options.
The National Cave Rescue Commission was formed in 1979 to train rescuers and track rescues related to caves. It is a component of the National Speleological Society which is a non-profit group of over 50,000 cavers who are dedicated to preserving caves and cave environments. The NCRC does NOT do cave rescues, instead it trains rescuers in the latest cave rescue techniques.
Every year the NCRC sponsors a national week long cave rescue seminar. In 2004 there was also a regional week long (actually 10 day) seminar located at California Cavern in Cave City. Most of the SBCSD Cave Team members attended.
NCRC trains rescuers on 3 levels:
- Level I - Team Member
- Level II - Team Leader
- Level III - Incident Command / Rescue Management
[Click permalink to read the rest.]
This weekend I attended the San Bernardino Sheriffs Search and Rescue Basic Mountaineering Course. This course covered all the skills necessary for an alpine search and rescue mission in the San Bernardino mountains.
The course actually started a month ago with 16 hours of classroom time. This weekend was the field exercises where we got a chance to apply the skills we learned about in the classroom. It was important to know the skills at a level known as unconscious competence, which means you can execute the task correctly without having to think about it.
- Here are some of the skills we covered:
- Ice Axe Self Arrest
- 2 and 3 Person Roped Travel
- Snow Anchors
- Ice Axe
- Crampon Travel
- Ice Axe Travel
- Snowshoe Travel
- Snow Shelters
- Avalanche Beacons
All in all it was a great training and I had a great time and learned many valuable skills. I plan on attending the next two trainings.
Here are the pictures I took.
In Canada, the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) has developed some cool software for the command center called Search and Rescue Command System (SARCS). I am currently working on a similar project for the San Bernardino Search and Rescue team, which I am in the process of joining.