Puer Mustelam (mustela) wrote in goodstories,
Puer Mustelam

Technical Rescue in the Wilderness!

In addition to being an EMT for a certain soulless national ambulance company, I also volunteer with a local search & rescue team. Last weekend was our monthly training weekend, and we had a great time.

About 5pm on Sunday night, we were back at the Sheriff's Office, cleaning up, when one of our deputies hears the district car out in the Columbia Gorge and the local rural FD get dispatched on a "man and son stuck on a ledge". He gets on the air, offers us up, seeing as we're all right there, and ten minutes later about fifteen of us are headed out. It sounds initally like this is just someone who needs a hand finding their way down, and we might not even be needed. The subject has a phone and GPS, as well as pretty decent outdoor gear.

We arrive on-scene to find out that the FD has hiked some people up into the Gorge to find him, despite the fact that they're specifically prohibited from going more than 50 feet off-road. Whatever. We hang around until they make contact with him, and -- whoops! -- he's on a little tiny ledge over a 150ft drop, near a waterfall, and doesn't want to try and self-rescue in the dark. Hmm. So some more FD folks, myself, and a few SAR people hike in to where he is. It's about a 45-minute hike, mostly side-hill on 35 to 45 degree talus slopes. Lots of fun.

We get up there -- "yup, that's a shitty place to be" -- and end up looking at alternate ways around while FD tries to talk him into rapelling down. No go. Finally, we decide to put some people in below the subjects for the overnight, and attack it in the light. FD says, "Well, you've got it under control, we're all volunteers with work in the morning, we're clear." ... What? I mean, they were a pain in the butt, and running all over our turf, but to clear in the middle of an incident? Our SAR unit is all-volunteer, mostly Explorers -- our kids would be missing school for this!

Anyway, FD takes off, we hunker down, and get some tech rescue people to come up for the morning. 5am rolls around and we've got three or four of our own tech rescue people, and two AMR wilderness rescue paramedics, and we all head back up there. Some of our people try to go topside and see if there's a way to rap down to these folks, while I lead the AMR medics in from the bottom side. Meanwhile, two of the kids we left at the base camp below the subjects go to "scout" a route up to them. Long story short, they cowboy it up there (sixteen-year-olds, sigh) and cross some technical terrain without protection to get to a good spot above the subjects.

The AMR guys and I arrive, scoot past the base camp to try and follow the two scouts, and discover the terrain they crossed. Now, I'm not much of a high-angle person, but these medics are. They train for a do a lot of challenging rescue ops on Mt. Hood and elsewhere. (Hear about that Pave Hawk helo crash on Mt. Hood a few years ago? That was AMR mountain rescue [called Reach & Treat, or RAT] medics.) These folks take one look at this rock spine, and go, "... they crossed this? There's too much exposure and no anchors." We three look at the situation for a while, and the conversation is pretty amusing.

Medic #1: "We could try that rock there for an anchor..."
Medic #2: "Um. You have a family, I have a family, he--" [points to me] "-- wants a family."
Medic #1: "... Yeah."

Finally we body-belay the first medic across, and I and the other one go back down to the base camp. We recall our tech rescue people from their top approach, and start working to set up a system. It's now 9:30 or 10:00 on Monday morning.

Did I mention the dogs? The subject's two pit bull mixes are forty feet above him, on the goat trail they hiked in on. So our three people below get into position, get everyone down to the main ledge, we get a 400ft rescue rope up to them, and start the process of getting seven souls down to 150+ foot drop. Now, this ledge is next to a waterfall, here's a draw down below where we are, and the whole time rocks are falling actively. Most were small, but the one seventy-pounder that cut loose was scary as hell, even if it wasn't within fifty feet of any of us.

We belay the kid down first, then the dad, then the dogs, and finally our people. We were belaying from a ways up the side of this draw, so they were landing down basically in the bottom of the draw, forty or fifty feet away. Guess who was the lucky one to go down into the rockfall zone and unhook them? Yup, yours truly. The dad and kid were fine, but when we brought the dogs down (with a 2nd tender line so they were in free-fall the whole time) it got a bit more interesting. Nothing like standing in a rockfall zone, two hours of sleep in the last twenty-four, with a scared and growling dog that you've got to unhook from two locking biners. Luckily the dogs calmed down pretty quick after they touched terra firma.

Finally, we belayed our two SAR kids down, and finally the rescue medic spent an hour and a half resetting the systems so we could bring all the ropes back down. Everyone was on the ground, safe and sound, by 15:00, and we were out on the road by 16:00.

For those of you who wonder how he got there, Dad wanted to teach Son to rappel, and Dad had that ever-dangerous tiny bit of knowledge and experience. They got into an unsafe place, and Dad intelligently called for help instead of getting in further over his head and getting hurt. He was a knucklehead for getting into the situation, but he was very nice to us, and even insisted on waiting up on the hill another two hours until all of our people were safe on the ground.

Coda: One of the other team members and I got poison oak somewhere up there. I did okay, rubbed it on my face but just ended up with an itchy forehead, neck, and slightly swollen eye. My buddy got sick enough to go to the ER Wednesday, get a shot, and come back home with a steroid scrip.

All in all, it was a pretty good adventure, and everyone agrees that it was a good rescue, slow but safe. Now I just need to learn more high-angle stuff, cause my skills are not what they could be. (Any suggestions for good books are welcome -- all I've got currently is Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, which is excellent, but not aimed at rescue applications.)

... and that's why there was no Monday topic in onlineambulance. Next week, promise.

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