Sunday, July 29, 2012

Challenging Search in Pacifica

Over the past few days, BAMRU has been involved in a challenging search for a missing woman in Pacifica. This was a collaborative and mutual aid based effort from multiple agencies. During the busiest period, there were more than 100 resources deployed in the field.

BAMRU turned out for the first operational period on Wednesday with a team of responders that worked through the night into Thursday that included multiple field and overhead assignments. Follow-on operational periods included mutual aid from across the Bay Area counties and as far as from Placer and Fresno.

Regrettably, the subject is still missing.

More News: Mercury News | ABC News

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Expecting the Unexpected Night Out

Earlier this summer, two members of our team headed to Yosemite for a weekend trip up Mt. Conness.  Conness stands at 12,590ft. and has several routes to its picturesque summit.  The planned route for this trip was one of the more technical options.

After going slightly off route late in the afternoon and unable to climb higher, the team was forced to spend the night on a cramped ledge.  Below is the trip report as told by Chris, and a wonderful example of why it is so important to be prepared and to expect the "unexpected".   

BAMRU is a "type 1" SAR team, which means, among other things, that we may be deployed for up to 72 hours without additional support. Members don't carry a full sleep system in their search pack all the time - but we try to be prepared for an unexpected night out, just in case, because we tend to draw the search assignments that are farthest away and last to be retrieved and, well, things happen.

We carry this over into our non-SAR lives, too, of course. So when Eszter Tompos and I found ourselves behind schedule at 12,400' on the western flank of Mt Conness in Yosemite National Park, we were able to pull out headlamps, and extra layers, and eventually a foam pad and space blankets in order to insulate ourselves from the cold granite and windy conditions of our bivy spot just below the summit ridge. A few extra energy bars and some chocolate didn't hurt either. A small HAM radio put us in contact with fellow BAMRU teammates Blake Gleason and Rachel Farrand, who were back in camp, and a GPS unit let us communicate exactly where we were.

"We were prepared as a matter of habit and that showed." -- Eszter 

When first light dawned, we were able to correct our route-finding error and continue our climb to the summit, where Blake and Rachel met us with hot soup, chai, and other yummy snacks, and much-needed good cheer after a long and chilly night.

So what was in our packs that made this potentially dangerous scenario have a happy outcome? 

Even though we (mostly) believe in Yvon Chouinard's famous quote "If you bring bivy gear, you're going to bivy", we also know that things don't always go as planned. Carrying the "ten essentials" always *seems* like carrying too much. But then, we had light rain gear, an insulating layer, and warm hats for each of us. Tiny first aid kits, some extra food and adequate water (and purification tablets), duct tape and Swiss Army knife, map, compass and GPS, headlamps and whistles, radio, and space blanket/emergency bag. My pack has a piece of closed cell foam as part of the suspension (a "bivy" pad), and the pack itself provided some insulation when I stuck my feet in it.

According to the Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, the ten essentials to carry in the back country are:

    Compass (optionally supplemented with a GPS receiver)
    Sunglasses and sunscreen
    Extra food
    Extra water
    Extra clothes
    Headlamp / flashlight
    First aid kit
    Fire starter (matches, chemical heat tabs, canned heat, or a magnesium stick)

It then recommends supplementing the ten essentials with:

    Portable water purification and water bottles
    Ice axe for glacier or snowfield travel (if necessary)
    Repair kit, including duct tape and basic sewing materials.
    Insect repellent (or clothing designed for this purpose)
    Signaling devices, such as a whistle, cell phone, two-way radio, satellite phone, signal mirror.
    Plastic tarp and rope for expedient field shelter.

So, without really trying, we had all that and more, plus all of our climbing gear to draw upon. Carrying all of that stuff slowed us down some, but we already knew we would be slow when we put the rope in the pack. A dedicated soloist wouldn't be caught carrying it, but someone soloing this route (the North Ridge) would probably know the way and be a lot faster than we were. And that's always the tradeoff.

Thankfully the weather, although cold and windy, was cooperative for Chris and Eszter and it didn't rain, hail, or lightening which can be common in the high Sierra during the summer months.  Some of you outdoor enthusiasts may, like myself, enjoy reading harrowing tales of epic journeys gone awry and survival stories that seem impossible to be true, however, if you would like to reduce your chances of being the author of one such tale, it's always a good idea to carry the ten essentials and possibly this even a HAM radio if you are licensed to use it.  Although not on the packing list, having two team members at base camp that have your back through thick and thin is always a plus too! 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

SAR and Cognative Disability

Over the years, BAMRU has searched for many people who have been diagnosed with conditions including autism, Alzheimer's and dementia. These types of searches can be quite challenging for searchers, search subjects and their families.

National Public Radio has done an interesting feature that highlights searches involving Cognative Disabilites in the state of Virginia. Many of the stories are similar to our own experiences - click here to listen.