Friday, December 21, 2012

The View From Above

While the end of the world is likely not coming, the snow is!! For those of you who love to go out and play, camp, hike, or ski in the white stuff, here is a great write-up by BAMRU's Alex Grishaver on how to help get spotted should you loose your direction crossing snowy terrain:

Ever wonder what a helicopter pilot sees while flying over a wintry wilderness area? On a recent Tahoe search, we got some compelling visual evidence of what's easy and difficult to see from the air --  with important lessons for all you outdoorsy folk.

These shots were taken from the air by a local deputy in the South Lake Tahoe area (specifically, near Upper Velmer Lake), where we had, thankfully, just made contact with a lone hiker who'd been pinned down in the first storm of the season. The helicopter was probably between 200-300' above the ground. What do you see in this first photo?

Well, hopefully you see… trees and snow, of course. A stream. Some very high-contrast shadows. And tracks! You may spot some people (or you may start to infer where they are based on the location of tracks). But you have to admit, people are pretty difficult to make out here. Even in when a helicopter is hovering in a stationary position, there's plenty to distract: vibrations; glare; reflections; etc.

Here’s another photo taken a minute later:

In this last photo, you might be able to make out one individual.

In fact, there are 7 other rescuers behind a cluster of trees, chatting with the hiker -- who was in fine condition, but who had been tent-bound for 5 days and was facing, at best, a 10-mile slog through 4-foot snow drifts in trail-runners if we hadn't found him. In this particular search, crews on the ground made contact with the hiker, who saw the helicopter drop them on a ridge and then used a whistle to alert us. The helicopter crew didn't actually see the hiker until after we'd made contact.

Yes, the photos aren't of the highest resolution. But the deputy who snapped these shots attested to the great difficulty of seeing us, only a few hundred feet below him. And the helicopter crew has way more visual information to process than what’s captured within the small “window” of these photos.

It's hard to see people from the air.  However, tracks stand out well on fresh snow, and stomping a message or pattern is surprisingly effective, quick and easy.  If possible, you should still try to attract attention with bright, geometric patterns in a clearing.  High-contrast patterns also work in other environments: spreading lightly colored gear against a dark background (or vice versa) can assist you in getting attention when you need it.

Have fun, and stay safe!

Written by Alex Grishaver, Edited by Matt Jacobs, Photo Credit: Deputy D. Frisby, CHP

Monday, December 3, 2012

BAMRU is Recruiting!


The Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit (BAMRU) is looking for mountaineers and people with wilderness medical training who enjoy the outdoors, teamwork, physical challenge and helping other people.

BAMRU is currently ramping up for its 2013 recruiting season. If you are interested in Search and Rescue and want to come learn more about our team/recruiting process please join us for one of the three scheduled Bay Area recruiting events. Several BAMRU members will be present to discuss and answer questions about the team and recruiting process.

RECRUITING EVENTS (Look for BAMRU members in red uniforms):
Dec. 12th   7-9 pm
Pacific Coast Brewing Co.
Mountain View
Dec. 17th   7-9 pm
Tied House
San Francisco
Dec. 19th   7-9 pm
Southern Pacific Brewing Co.
                                                Stop by anytime.  BAMRU members will be there from 7-9pm.

BAMRU is a volunteer wilderness search and rescue team specialized for operations involving difficult terrain, challenging weather conditions, or high altitude. We are based in the San Francisco Bay Area and respond throughout California as an accredited member of the Mountain Rescue Association, a FEMA and California OES Type I search and rescue resource and is a volunteer branch of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department.

BAMRU members are men and women who share a desire to put their specialized outdoors skills to use in the service of people missing or injured in the wilderness. BAMRU members are climbers, skiers, mountaineers and backpackers. Self-sufficiency is a trademark of BAMRU. Members are prepared to operate in the field autonomously and without support, for up to 72 hours. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Teams That Play Together, Stay Together

Members of our leadership team having fun in Alaska
photo credit: Bill Parker
I thought it might be nice to take a moment before the rush of the holiday season and upcoming busy winter training schedule to shed a little light on a side of SAR that we don't always talk about in blogs, updates and training summaries, and that is the amazing sense of camaraderie that grows from working with a group of such capable and reliable folks.

Semi-Colin and Ben on a Thanksgiving trip to Red Rocks
photo credit: Callie Hintzen
Companies and organizations who want to build camaraderie among their staff can hire outside professionals to come in and provide bonding exercises likes trust falls, ropes courses and nature hikes.  For a few hours or maybe a weekend, staff get to play together to develop trust, respect, loyalty and communication skills.  As SAR team members, we get to experience this kind of team building a minimum of one weekend a month.  We rely on one another to hold our weight over a 1,200 foot cliff with a litter and a patient.  We count on each other to get to a search and back safely in the middle of night.  We also go through some pretty stressful situations together and support each other through the aftermath.  
Enjoying the view photo credit: John Chang

The result is not only a cohesive team that can work together effectively and seamlessly during a call out or an emergency situation, but also a network of about 50 or so like-minded new friends to hang out with and go on adventures with.  In fact, we even had to start a separate mailing list for social events due to the high volume of invites, evites and outdoor trip planning.

Eszter, Chris and Abi laughing on a Sierra Club snow camping trip
photo credit: Emilie Cortes
This sense of camaraderie extends well beyond our own team as well and reaches into the entire SAR community. We are all sort of held together by this common mission and common goal.

Of course working in stressful situations with many people who tend be leaders rather than followers, it isn't always just warm and fuzzy.  There are difficulties encountered, lots of debriefing, logistics that need improving and there is always room for growth and improvement.  But reflecting back on the year, it is safe to say that despite any hiccups or logistical glitches, we are constantly working on ways to be better and to remember why it is we're doing this; someone is missing, and they need our help.

Happy December everyone, it's been a great year, here's to making 2013 even better!      

Tyler and Woody on a climbing trip in Yosemite
photo credit: Tyler Phelan