Being a climbing guide involves more than just guiding. As Uncle Ben said to Spider man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” So, last week I got the opportunity to participate in a joint technical training with; TriState Care Flight, a medical helicopter service, La Plata County Search and Rescue (LPCSAR), and Durango Fire and Rescue Authority (DFRA). I have been a member of the LPCSAR for 14 years. Trainings like this one; small team and real time, are the most beneficial.
The training took place on Babcock Peak in La Plata Canyon, just west of Durango. The main premises of the training was to work on logistical issues of a multi agency technical rescue utilizing a medical helicopter for rescuer transport. None of any of the agencies had ever done a training or rescue at this specific location. This meant we were all on sighting it, so to speak. We began the training at 7:15 at the Hesperus Ski Area. After a brief helicopter safety briefing from the flight crew and putting together the minimum needed gear, TriState began to shuttle us up to the landing zone. We utilized a variation of the gear list shown. This list was put together by Leo Llyod. Leo is a shift supervisor for Durango Fire and Rescue, 20 year + veteran of La Plata County Search and Rescue, and a lead instructor for Rigging for Rescue. Leo eats and breathes technical rescue. If there is anybody out there that can explain the “why behind the what” of technical rescue, Leo can. He has instructed Rigging for Rescue courses throughout North America. Some of his “students” have been YOSAR, Denali SAR, and Teton SAR to name a few. He has also worked as a volunteer ranger on Denali.
Rope / Cordage / Webbing:
- (2) 90m 9.8mm Static Ropes
- (2) 60m 9.8mm Static Ropes (if a long lowering operation is anticipated)
- (1-2) 60m climbing ropes for technical patient access (as indicated)
- (1-2) 10m 8mm cords
- (2) 20’ webbing lengths
- (3) 15 webbing lengths
- (2) sets of supple 7mm Tandem Prusiks
- (6) Lightweight locking Carabiners
- (2) Titanium Scarabs DCDs
- (1) Lightweight Break-Apart Litter with 4-point bridal (preferable) or MEDSLED
- (1) 2-track (narrow) ice cube trays for edge protection
- (1) sleeve style (Velcro) mobile edge protection (with 30m 3mm cord)
- Small Rock Protection Rack (as indicated) – 1 ea. Small-Med. Cams, assorted nuts) / assorted pitons / (5) 60cm Spectra Slings with (2) non-locking carabiners per sling
- (1) Alpine hammer
- (1) Range Finder w/battery
- Radios with extra batteries
If snow and/or ice conditions are probable:
- 1-2 pr lightweight skis / (4) Pickets for snow anchors
- Assortment of Ice Screws (17-22cm) / V-Thread capability
Medical / Stabilization:
- (1) Compact BLS focused Medical Kit (may need to ramp up based on projected injuries, etc)
- (1) LifeBlanket
- (1) Tarp
- (1) Insulite Pad
- (1) Vacuum Mattress (essential if using MedSled)
- (1) Lightweight Sleeping Bag (as indicated for additional insulation)
Helicopter Shuttle Sequence (Based On 2-Rescuers per shuttle)
1st Shuttle (Rescuers 1 and 2)
2nd Shuttle (Rescuers 3 and 4)
3rd Shuttle (Rescuers 5 and 6)
Other Equipment Considerations:
- Additional medical equipment / personnel (as indicated)
- Hammer drill w/ bits and extra battery
- MedSled (if indicated )
- Lightweight wheel (as indicated)
- More rope, pulleys, etc (Guiding line option, etc)
IMPORTANT: The above team equipment recommendations assume each TRT Rescuer has their own personal rigging gear (including harness, 1-2 micro pulleys, 10m 8mm cord, 3-4 locking carabiners, 3 non-locking carabiners, and PPE). This also includes storm gear and fluid/calories. It may also include transceiver, probe, shovel, crampons, ice ax, ice tools, etc.
The TriState pilot chose an landing zone at 12,300 ft in Tomahawk basin, just north east of Babcock peak. This was a little further from the scenario site than we would have preferred but ended up working perfectly. A short hike got everybody into position at the base of the couloir on Babcock Peak. TriState Careflight chooses a Eurocopter Astar for these types of missions. The Astar is easily stripped down to become a light weight transport machine. This makes tight maneuvers (such as hovering, dropping off, and picking up rescuers) in mountainous terrain easier. We shuttled 2-3 rescuers plus gear per flight in accordance with the above sequence.
Once on location two teams ascended the north facing couloir towards the “victim.” The victim was played by one of TriStates RNs to simplify and lesson the number of people needing to be flown in. Despite warm temps, the north facing couloir which measured just over 50 degrees at the steepest point, provided plenty of firm snow.
Two teams of three rescuers ascended the couloir to our fallen “victim.” The scenario was: a climber fell while climbing one of Babcock’s technical spires. A technical lower via a litter to a landing zone where they would be flown out was the only option for extrication. The snow was in perfect conditions for crampons and kicking steps. The upper team climbed to an elevation of just under 12,900 ft with the second team (my team) ascending to roughly 12,650. By utilizing two 90 M 9.8 mm ropes as well as special techniques, we were able to space the teams further apart and minimize the number of stations required. For this training we chose to incorporate at two rope technique of separate main and belay lines. This provides extra security in the event of a system failure and keeps the entire exercise to a 10:1 static system safety factor.
The upper station was able to use both SLCDs and pitons for their two anchor systems. The belay utilized two 7mm prusiks while the main line used a titanium Scarab for their decent control device (DCD). The Scarab is a lightweight DCD that allows for ample friction in a low friction environment such as on snow. An other option for a DCD in an alpine scenario is the Parallel Plaquettes technique made popular by Rigging for Rescue. After efficiently constructing an anchor suitable for a rescue load, it was just a few minutes for the team to get the litter and attendant down to my station. My team used a variety of SLCDs, nuts, and a single mid clip picket for our two anchors. To do a station load transfer in a two rope system, we just “switch” the ropes. The line that was the belay from station one down, now becomes the main, and the main now becomes the belay. An efficient team can make this switch with out ever stopping the litter.
Once the station transfer had been made, my station continued with the lower. Near the bottom of the couloir, as the angle lessoned we jettisoned the belay line and attached it to the main line effectively doubling our rope length to 180 M. A quick knot pass gave us an additional 90 m of lowering capability down to benign terrain.
The entire exercise from start to finish took just over 3 hours from first take off to last landing. Overall the training was a great success.
AMGA Certified Rock Guide
AMGA Assistant Ski and Alpine Guide
AMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide
AIARE Level 1 & 2 Course Leader