Volunteers take time away from work and family for mountain rescue training

·3 min read

All heroes need their training and that’s what the volunteers who comprise the team at Columbia Valley Search and Rescue (CVSAR) are to those they help — heroes. On Aug. 20, 11 volunteers took time away from work and their families to participate in CVSAR’s technical mountain rescue advanced training that was held in the Starbird Range of the Purcell Mountains, located on the unceded territories of the Secwépemc and Ktunaxa peoples and the land chosen as home by the Métis peoples.

Instruction for the week of training was provided by Kirk Mauthner, an internationally certified mountain guide, a longtime CVSAR member and the primary technical rope rescue trainer for Parks Canada visitor safety specialists, as well as other international mountain rescue agencies. Mauthner also wears the hat of vice-president of the Terrestrial Rescue Commission for the International Commission for Alpine Rescue. Columbia Valley search and rescue manager Nancy Loraas said participants flew and drove to the camp at staggered times. For volunteers of CVSAR and the mountain rescue team, one element of training that is essential and regularly offered is technical rope rescue. Like everything else over the last two years, adjustments were made due to the pandemic.

“Technical rope rescue can be described as moving a person from a place of predicament to a place of care,” Loraas said. “Situate that person in a mountain environment and now you need a team of people who can properly assess the various risks and be able to move efficiently and quickly with high levels of safety in the various types of mountain terrain, to move that person to a place of care.”

Loraas said mountain rescue training has had a resurgence of focus over the past few years. COVID-19 affected what can and cannot be done, but Loraas said it is time again to hone the skills as the number of mountain rescue responses are growing as pandemic-related restrictions ease.

“This type of training requires personal terrain movement skills on snow, ice, glaciers, rock walls and cliffs on uneven ground and loose talus,” Loraas said. “Additionally, a broad understanding of technical rope rescue skills sets is required for the various terrain types to move a rescue load up or down a mountain or aerially across gaps or chasms.”

CVSAR’s technical mountain rescue advanced training is open to all 40 members who wish to develop mountain rescue skill sets. However, there are rope rescue techniques prerequisites that must be met first. Volunteers and sometimes even instructors must cover their own costs, which can include the training itself, flights, and food. This latest training excursion gave the participants relevant, immersive, and intensive training in realistic mountain terrain. With rescue, there are risks, especially when working at great heights in an uncontrolled environment like the mountains. Search and rescue teams in B.C. use a progressive risk mitigation tool, called RADEMS (response assessment and decision-making support) to help mitigate and manage hazards and risks associated with callouts. Loraas said it is essential that members train in the actual environment to where they may be required to respond. Learning to manage the right risk at the right time is one of the fundamental skills sets that get taught to CVSAR members.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have this level and calibre of training. When compared to other SAR teams in the province, it is abundantly obvious that CVSAR has some very demanding callouts to respond to in some highly technical terrain,” Loraas said. “To maintain high levels of safety to both the SAR team, as well as the subjects, the training must match and preferably exceed the response requirements. Very few SAR teams in B.C. are fortunate enough to have the right combination of skilled volunteers, as well as qualified instruction in terrain that is intrinsically relevant to the types of callouts.”

For more information on the organization, visit columbiavalleysar.ca.

Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer