Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wilderness Search & Rescue Training With KSAR

This past weekend I had the opportunity to take a Wilderness Search and Rescue course in Pittsfield, Vermont (home of the Death Race). It was offered by Killington Mountain Guides through The Endurance Society. Taking this course was appealing to me for several reasons;

  1.        I spend a lot of time in the woods and things happen. I would like to know what do when something goes wrong.
  2.        There was a search near my home about a year ago for two missing children in one of the wooded areas I know really, really well, perhaps better than anyone. I would like to have helped but felt unqualified.
  3.        The Endurance Society is led by Andy Weinberg (one of the Death Race founders). I think anyone who knows Andy would agree that if he is involved, it is probably a safe bet it is going to be an awesome and unique opportunity.

My friends Mike O’Hearn and Ted Ventre decided to join me for this adventure so we made the trek up to Vermont not quite sure what we were in for but open to anything. We knew we would be camping and providing most of our own meals (MRE’s – Meals Ready To Eat or, more likely, Meals Refusing to Exit). We also had a list of gear to bring.

Our Lean-To
We arrived after sunset and were pointed to a trail to take. Packs on, we headed into the dark. The campsite was a half mile straight up the mountain. Heavy breathing. Three other people were already there as was a fire, a lean-to and an outhouse. After meeting Amy, Dave and Rod, it was decided that Ted and I would take the lean-to and Mike would use his tent. There is something about sleeping under the stars that I have always enjoyed. Our host and instructor, Bob Giolito arrived on an ATV a little later and briefed us on what to expect. He also informed us that a group of West Point cadets were training on the next mountain with Joe Desena (the other Death Race founder) and if any of them got hurt or lost, we would be called in to help. The temperatures that night dipped down to 40 degrees but we were all comfortable.

At day break, we gathered our packs and gear and headed back down the mountain. There we met the other participants and our instructors. All of the participants has some level of experience in the outdoors and in endurance events. Everyone was very impressive and genuinely nice.

Bob and Chris
The instructors; Bob, Chis, Dave, Murray, Steve, Wade and Laura, are all bad ass outdoor people. Climbing, repelling, back country skiing, you name it, they have done it. Bob and Chris are Vermont State Troopers and with their colleagues have created the Killington Search and Rescue team (KSAR), the group the local police and fire departments call in to find and save people in the back country. The best part, they are extremely nice and very generous with their knowledge.

The first day was spent learning about head, back and neck injuries, how to move an injured person, and what to do in an emergency. We practiced a lot of the skills that were needed to help an injured person in the wild. It was a ton of information.

Then, in the late afternoon, Bob got a call that a woman was stranded on a cliff. At first, we all rolled our eyes thinking it was a connived drill for our benefit. After looking at Bob’s eyes, we knew it was for real. We all grabbed our gear, jumped into some trucks and headed down the road.

She Is Stuck Up There
Upon arrival, there was a fire engine already on scene. We hike up to the cliff. The woman had gotten stuck about 60 feet up on a cliff after taking a wrong turn. She could not go up or down and was beginning to panic. As “trainees” our job was to retrieve gear, observe and stay out of the way. Bob roped in and climbed up to the woman. Three other people took a trail around and over the cliff and repelled down to her. It took over two hours to get her down. We returned to camp, had dinner and Bob debriefed us.

The second night in camp brought the sound of a Black Bear somewhere above us on the mountain. This was confirmed the next day with the discovery of bear scat up the trail. So, to the age old question; does a bear shit in the woods? Answer: yes!

The next day started with more information and practice. In the afternoon we were given two practical scenarios that we had to successfully complete. The first was a climber who fell 40 feet and was unconscious who we had to assess, treat and evacuate. The second was a missing hunter who we
had to locate, treat and evacuate as well. Both scenarios presented us with real life complexities and issues. The afternoon ended with CPR re-certification taught by Steve, who had been the local fire chief for 27 years and was a magician. It was the most entertaining CPR class I have ever attended, to say the least.

One more night under the stars. As an added bonus, we got to witness the super moon and lunar eclipse on an incredible setting. Four days in the woods with no showers, it was one stinky, long ride home.

I think the big take-away for more is that as much as I love being in the woods (and I really do) and doing things like running across the Grand Canyon and competing in things like Death Race, bad things have and do happen. Anyone who does this stuff has seen it, and it can be ugly. At the very least, taking a course like this gave me the tools to know what to do to help someone, or even myself. 

Super Moon
Andy Being All Official
Steve Explaining The Resuce