This past week, Moab played host to a course for rope rescue techniques, attended by students from close to home and far afield. The class, small at seven members, included two students from Grand County Search and Rescue, one member of Ouray Mountain Rescue and members of the Canadian military.
The five-day course was offered by the Ouray-based company Rigging for Rescue. Events included lectures, discussions, demonstrations and practical training in the field.
“We do two courses every year in Moab, in the spring and fall,” said course instructor Jared Vilhauer. “It has a lot to do with the terrain that’s available. There’s an abundance of terrain and varied terrain so depending on what exercise we’re doing, there is low-angle, moderate slope rock or very steep cliffs.”
Students in the course cited a variety of reasons for attendance.
“I work at the Ouray Ice Park and work on ropes at least six months out of the year,” said Justin Hofmann. “So I’m doing it for that and for my personal climbing. There’s a lot of good knowledge here, and it’s fun.”
“For me it’s a refresher just to keep my skills up,” said Moab local Bego Gerhart.
Xander Bianchi, a member of Ouray Mountain Rescue, said that the training is beneficial for working on a technical rope rescue team.
“I’ve taken it before so this is mostly a refresher … Moab has a lot of difficult edge transitions and difficult terrain so practicing here is good.”
The course teaches “critical thinking, systems analysis and a questioning attitude,” according to the Rigging for Rescue website. “Transforming knowledge of physics principles into practical working systems of greater safety takes precedence over the introduction of gadgetry.”
That critical thinking and systems analysis comes into play when rescuers have to build complex rope systems to raise and lower patients over the edges of cliffs, or up or down steep talus slopes. One especially tricky part of the work is getting a litter with a patient in it smoothly over the transition of the edge of a cliff or slope and onto flat ground.
Grand County Search and Rescue Vice Commander Frank Mendonca said that this type of rope rescue comes in handy on a regular basis in Moab.
“Many times what we have to do is we have to set up an anchor system and lower rescuers or medical personnel to the subject and when we do that, everything is backed up,” Mendonca said, explaining the technical expertise involved in a rescue. “It’s what’s called a mirrored system, so you have two ropes going down to the subject, each of which [is] rigged identically ... mirrored. What we have to do in most of [the calls] is access [the subject] somehow and that can be either hiking up a talus to them or setting up anchor systems and send somebody over the edge to get to them.
“Once the rescuer or medical personnel are with the subject, they will treat the subject, package them in the litter, then we will raise them ... using any of a number of mechanical advantage raising systems. The mechanical advantage system we use just depends on the number of rescuers that we’ve got to pull on the line and what type of load we’re going to be bringing up.
“We get numerous calls every year that involve some type of rope rescue and we train regularly.
“We have a rope rescue team that trains regularly in addition to the bi-monthly regularly scheduled Search and Rescue trainings. Then we also have several different classes that we send them to throughout the year … we’re in an area that’s a BASE-jumping mecca and a ... famous climbing area. Some of the trails that are just hiking trails can be treacherous at times so you end up with somebody who has fallen down a slope.”
More information on the course can be found at riggingforrescue.com.