Blast From the Past - Seattle Mountain Rescue
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Larry Colagiovanni, the chair of Seattle Mountain Rescue, came on the podcast to answer some questions about Seattle Mountain Rescue out of King County, WA. I asked him questions about their history, their procedures and some of the past missions they have been a part of.
How long has the Seattle Mountain Rescue been around?
Officially stated in 1948, but it's roots were established in a 1936 mission on Mount Rainier led by Ome Daiber. Daiber and his core team were called upon in the years to come for any type of rescue mission after the fame and heroics displayed on that first outing.
What area does the Seattle Mountain Rescue cover?
Primarily King County and sometimes they are called out to bigger missions nearby.
Roughly how many calls per month do you guys receive on average?
About ten calls a month on a yearly average, but most of those come between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Can you tell us, what are some of the most common calls for your SAR? And is there an area that is more frequent to get calls for?
75% of calls are lost hikers, hikers that find themselves out after dark without being prepared for it or twisted ankles and small falls. Rattlesnake Ledge, Mailbox Peak and Mount Si are some of the trails they are called to most frequently. And the Alpental area near Snoqualmie Pass is a heavy call area for climbers. This is mainly because they are the most popular.
How many calls can you remember were for bear, cougar or any wild animal attacks?
He can't recall anything like that in the past four years. Though there was a couple incidents of hikers being scared by a bear. They ran off the trail in both cases and couldn't find the trail, becoming lost.
Do all rescue missions result in an airlift?
Quite the opposite! Only about ten percent of calls end in a helicopter assist. Most of the time, weather is a factor in this, not letting the helicopter fly safely.
Can you walk us through the behind the scenes of a rescue mission after Seattle Mountain Rescue has been called in?
They are only able to go out when the Sheriffs office alerts them. The Search and Rescue deputy with the Sheriffs assess all calls of this nature and determines wether they need to call in Seattle Mountain Rescue or not. If they are called in, then all team members, 70 in all, get a text asking for a hasty team for a rescue. Responders will meet at a trailhead or the office and the mission begins. Plans are discussed and the team goes after it.
What are the requirements to join the Seattle Mountain Rescue? Is there a position for someone that is not a mountain climber?
SMR requires three years of recent intermediate mountaineering experience for field work. Some behind the scenes work is also needed. There is also seven other Search and Rescue units just in King County that also need help.
How is Seattle Mountain Rescue financed?
SMR is 100% volunteer donation based. They spend about $50,000 a year towards maintenance, training and field work.
How much does a rescue mission cost a lost or injured hiker or climber?
All rescue missions in King County are free. It is a misconception and we hope that we are called before situation gets worse.
What are your simple suggestions or some best practices to keeping outdoor enthusiasts safe?
Start by checking the weather and trail conditions; incoming storms or snow still on trail. Trip plans are always a great idea, including where, when, who and also what did you prepare for. Having a way to alert for help maybe even above your cell phone; a SPOT or location device will work where a cell phone won't. The 10 essentials is always best practice. If you do find yourself in a bind, don't hesitate to call for help.
Describe a worst case scenario for a mission? Weather? Lack of details? Terrain?
His answer is having to turn around due to poor conditions. He tells the story of a lost snowshoer that they knew whereabouts he was, but not being able to go out.
If you are allowed to discuss any calls, can you talk about one or two of them?
December of 2014, he was a part of an ice climber rescue at Alpental. The climber had broken his back and was airlifted out. He now trains to sit ski and hand biking. Memorial Day weekend 2015 had a heart attack on Granite Mountain. He was one of the rescuers taking him down the four mile trail and a paramedic team met them on the trail where they ressusitated him right there.
Larry mentions this article from WTA blog.
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