Monday, March 31, 2014

Houdini Training at Castle Crags

Sometimes, whilst climbing, you may find yourself in a bit of a pickle.  A situation that maybe you wish you weren't in and that may take some clever moves and exactly the right gear to get yourself out of it.  Or perhaps you intended to end up where you are, but need some Macgyver type maneuvers to continue on in challenging terrain.  

In the spirit of being prepared for a wide variety of circumstances, BAMRU members carry with them what we refer to as our Houdini kits. A combination of gear that can come in very handy if you find yourself unable to climb difficult section of rock, needing to tie off your belay, or pull someone out of a crevasse. Some of recommended items for a houdini kit are:
  • 80 to 100 ft of 7-9mm perlon
  • simple climbing harness
  • few biners
  • few pieces of protection
  • rappel/belay device
  • rescue pulley
  • 3 prussiks
  • few slings
As with any gear, it is only helpful, if you know how to use it. If you climb regularly outside, we highly recommend taking a self rescue course by a certified guide.  BAMRU team members recently had the opportunity to practice using their skills and their gear for a weekend at Castle Crags State Park. Some photos from the training and a write up are below.    

On March 14, six BAMRU members headed north to the Castle Crags Wilderness, A rugged area of phenomenal granite spires set in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The goal: practice the use of our "Houdini Kit" -- a mountain rescuer's personal collection of rope, webbing, cord and other climbing gear likely to prove useful when navigating steep and unpredictable alpine terrain.
photo credit: Brian Biancardi

The hike in was made additionally strenuous due to the near total absence of water in the area in which we would be training --  we carried it in ourselves. One particularly masochistic member brought eight gallons of water in addition to a full climbing rack, 2 ropes and all his personal gear in one massive hall bag, primarily for the purposes of training for an upcoming adventure.

The team spent two full days practicing rapelling, ascending a rope, passing knots, building anchors, hauling gear using simple mechanical advantage systems, and navigating fourth and fifth class terrain. Day one culminated with a scramble/climb to the top of Castle Dome, with an amazing view of Mount Shasta in the background.

In the backcountry, it's pretty easy to find that you've gone from, say, an easy rock scramble to a much more challenging and potentially much riskier scenario. So, beyond the purely technical skills, the team also practiced personal and collective risk assessment, and discussed how social dynamics affect individual and group decision-making.
photo credit: Alex Grishaver

photo credit: Alex Grishaver
photo credit: Brian Biancardi
photo credit: Alex Grishaver

Sunday, March 23, 2014

2014 Mountain Rescue Reaccreditation

On Saturday March 1, 2014, BAMRU successfully completed the California Region Mountain Rescue Association’s reaccreditation test in the discipline of search management and tracking of lost person incidences.  This is one of three required disciplines to be an accredited national Mountain Rescue Association team. The other two disciplines are search and rescue in winter conditions and cliff rescue environments. To pass this test, members of BAMRU had to demonstrate the ability to perform a grid search, track a subject through varied terrain, use an emergency locator transmitter (ELT), successfully treat our mock patient and demonstrate proficiency in running a command post.  

Twenty of BAMRU’s members and trainees attended the event, including two who acted as test evaluators for other teams. All told, Placer County Sheriff Office was host to over 200 Search and Rescue personnel from over 20 different teams from across California. The day unfolded along with receding storms along the American River in Auburn State Recreation Park.

The day started at zero dark thirty and our first task was to locate a downed aircraft by honing in on a signal from an ELT.  By driving to strategic locations in the vicinity where the aircraft was last seen, field teams were able to use the signal strength of the ELT receivers and take bearings in the direction of the signals. The collected information was then radioed back to the command post where the command staff collated all the field data and triangulated the plane’s location and directed the rescuers to the scene of the simulated crash site.

Next, the team carefully followed the tracks of the subject who was possibly injured and had wandered from the simulated crash site wreckage.  Tracking involves using a keen eye to follow sometimes very subtle signs that a subject may have left behind in order to determine a direction of travel and find the missing person. Once found, the condition of the patient was assessed and medical treatment provided.

Our medical scenario involved a subject with a head injury whose condition was deteriorating and required urgent evacuation.  BAMRU was responsible for managing the patient, communicating the situation back to the command post, requesting additional resources and evacuating the patient quickly but safely.  Upon securing the patient into a litter basket, the carry out to from the wilderness to a waiting ambulance at trailhead went quickly and smoothly.

BAMRU ended the day with a grid search looking for evidence from a crime scene scenario.  No stranger to this practice, the team combed through brush, grass, trees, shrubs and poison oak for an hour long test in search of the missing items. 

BAMRU would like to thank Placer County Sheriff’s Office for hosting this event and for providing all of the volunteer patients. Thanks as well to the evaluators of the event and the Auburn State Parks and Recreation department for their support.  Last but not least, we'd like to thank Marin County SAR for hosting a multi team training prior to the reaccreditation.  

If you are interested in supporting BAMRU or finding out more about what we do, please visit

Monday, February 17, 2014

BAMRU at Pinnacles Climber Appreciation Days

When not out training or searching, many BAMRU members still manage to find time to volunteer and give back in other ways.  This is a long overdue post about two of our members who participated in Climber Appreciation days at Pinnacles National Park back in the fall.  Thank you to Chris and Eszter for helping to keep our parks in good shape for us all to enjoy!  You can find more information on participating in future events like this here.

"On October 25, 26, and 27 2013, Pinnacles National Park hosted a celebration for local (and not-so-local) climbers, during which over 60 climbers traded some volunteer time for free camping, good food, a great raffle, and wonderful company. BAMRU members Chris Kantarjiev and Eszter Tompos provided trailside first aid support and lifted some heavy stuff as well.

Conceived and organized by (BAMRU Alumni) Larry Arthur and Jane Goldcamp of Mountain Tools, this event generated more than 150 person-days of volunteer trail work, erecting fences and mitigating erosion in the vicinity of Discovery Wall, Teaching Rock, and Tourist Trap. That's about half a year of the NPS trail boss's time!

The weather was perfect and the sponsors gave generously to the raffle. We hope that this is the first of many such events."

-Chris Kantarjiev, BAMRU Technical Member