Showing posts with label Rocky Mountains. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rocky Mountains. Show all posts

October 21, 2021

Should SAR Leave the Body on the Peak?

A Colorado Air National Guard Blackhawk helicopter
on a mission near Ouray (Ouray Mountain Rescue Team).

Last August, three volunteers from Mountain Rescue Aspen were injured by rockfall on Capitol Peak as they searched for a missing climber.

One was hit by a "micowave-size rock" that smashed into her hip. "She sustained a comminuted femur fracture (broken in three or more pieces), multiple pelvis breaks and a fractured vertebra."

While she was expected to recover, I suspect that she will feel those injuries for a long time, perhaps the rest of her life.

The injured rescuers were airlifted off the mountain by a Colorado Air National Guard helicopter. (The ANG frequently helps out on these situations.)

The climber, a 32-year-old man from Madison, Wisconsin, was left up there. Some of my climber friends on Facebook were deeply disappointed. 

The Pitkin County team told the family it did not see a way to safely recovery the body at this time.

“It was a difficult decision, but we’ve collectively decided to leave Kelly McDermott’s body on the mountain where it currently rests,” [Sheriff's Office representative Alex] Burchetta told CBS4. “We’ve spent the past month or so working on alternate recovery plans and simply were not able to come up with one that provided the level of safety necessary to conduct another recovery mission.”

But how many people should risk their lives to bring down a body? My county's Search and Rescue Group, which is large and active, has done it multiple times. But no one has ever gotten a smashed pelvis in the process. (I realize that the injuried searchers did not know that their missing climber had died.)

It's a different order of magnitude, but many bodies have been left on Everest and other big mountains. One corpse, nicknamed "Green Boots," is a well-known landmark to climbers on the North Face. There may be as many as two hundred others.

There are several intertwined problems here.

Most Search and Rescue people are volunteers. I know some locally. They work hard and pay a lot of their own expenses. Should they climb after corpses, or should friends and family take care of that?

SAR groups are more focused on living people who need help, however. They defend their "no-charge" policies, saying that free rescues save more people. The Colorado Search and Rescue Association states their policy:

The State of Colorado has declared that backcountry search and rescue is an essential service in Colorado.  The Colorado SAR community believes SAR is a service that should be provided to anyone, regardless of ability to pay.  These civic minded volunteers do what they do for many different reasons, including simple humanitarian support for their neighbors and visitors. They enjoy being outdoors, and many of them talk about the personal pride that comes from working as a team to save lives.   SAR teams, in many ways, help sustain the Colorado way of life.  Charging for services, especially in a punitive context, does nothing to further this culture and likely would injure Colorado outdoor tourism. . . .

The Summit County Rescue group tells the story of a young hiker who became stranded on Colorado’s 14,270 foot Quandary Peak. She called 911, but asked the SAR coordinator just to “talk her out of the area,” which was a dangerous, technical part of the mountain. The sun had already set and it was getting cold, but she repeatedly insisted the team should not come to help her. The SAR coordinator finally asked why she didn’t want help, and she replied, “I can’t afford it.” He explained there would be no charge and she finally relented.

There are a few caveats to the no-charge-for-rescue doctrine. First, if you are rescued by a backcountry SAR team, they may call in other resources that do commonly charge for services, such as ambulances and medivac helicopters.  Health insurance plans may offer coverage for these kinds of medical transport.

Colorado charges a fee on hunting, fishing, and all-terrain vehicle licenses that helps to fund Search and Rescue groups. I wonder what percentage of hikers and climbers buy the stand-alone COSAR card. It is a fundraiser, but it is not "rescue insurance."

A recent New York Times article states,

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge of inexperienced hikers venturing into the outdoors. And that in turn has increased the pressure on search and rescue teams, as well as the costs. Increasingly, states are looking for ways to penalize people who take unnecessary risks. But some question whether these laws might also discourage people from seeking help soon enough after putting their lives at risk because of an honest mistake.

New Hampshire passed a law in 2008 that allowed it to seek reimbursement if state officials deemed that a rescued person was negligent.

 Colorado's SAR community is resisting this movement, so far.

When I took National Outdoor Leadership School wilderness first-aid classes, one question always bounced around in my head. The instructors always seemed to assume that the helicopter — or the SAR team — would be there when we needed them. But what if they did not come? What happens when they have too many incidents to cope with, "essential service" or not?

Would people be more careful if they knew that help was not just a cell phone call or beacon activation away? 

My neighbors like to say that if a violent crime occurs, the nearest sheriff's deputy is at best twenty minutes away, so you had better have your own Plan B. And we rural volunteer firefighters are not as quick to respond as an urban fire department either. What will you do until we arrive?

Is it fair to ask that of mountain hikers and climbers? 

How would it change things if you went up the mountain knowing that no one—except possibly your friends—would come looking for you if you did not return on time?

July 28, 2017

Links Taller than Your Head

It's a good year for wild sunflowers.
Links. Do I have links. They sprout like sunflowers on the prairie.

How to improve your outdoor photography. 10-2-4 is not about Dr. Pepper — 2 p.m. is when you are traveling to the place that you wish to photograph after 4 p.m. And "Zoom with your feet" does not apply to buffalo.

Predatory ducks. It's Romania, so maybe they suck blood as well.

• How older elk survive to a ripe old age (for elk).  They learn the difference between bowhunters and rifle hunters.

A poacher goes down hard. If only this happened more often.

• From Colorado Outdoors: "Five Tips to Catch More Fish This Summer."

Another article on bold, aggressive urban coyotes. Denver, this time.

• High country trails don't just happen. It takes people like this.

February 25, 2017

Colorado Forests Are Changing. Part of Me Likes That.

Pine beetle-killed lodgepole pine in Colorado (University of Colorado).
I spent last weekend camping with friends on the White River National Forest in Summit County, Colorado. The mountain pine beetle worked its magic there some years ago, which means there is lots of firewood in the form of dead trees.

As humans, I think we are hardwired for orgies — not talking about sex here, but more in the sense of "Run all the buffalo over a cliff and eat meat until you fall down!" "Dig all the gold!" "Drink all the beer!" Or in our case, "Build big fires!" Really, it makes our little ape-hearts feel good.

Let's take the long view, if we can. Only what we think is a long view is just childhood for a tree.

According to the Colorado State Forest Service, one in fourteen forest trees in the state is dead, for a total of 834 million standing dead trees. (A projection from sample counts, that has to be.)
Infestations of mountain pine beetles and spruce beetles are the main cause of the die-off, [State Forester Mike] Lester said. Beetles are native to the state but have caused far more damage than normal over the past 20 years, attacking more than 7,900 square miles of forest, or more than 20 percent of total forested land.
Standing dead trees made fighting last summer's 38,000-acre Beaver Creek Fire more difficult, fire  commanders said. Earlier studies about dead trees' effects on fire were more ambiguous, so I wonder if the pendulum will swing.

A big post-fire issue is flooding with associated erosion — I will be writing more about that later this spring.

And then there is Our Friend the Spruce Beetle.
At this point, there’s nothing stopping the spruce beetle. We’re observing it. We’re going to let nature run its course,” said state entomologist Dan West, who helped run aerial surveys with the U.S. Forest Service involving 40 flights over forests.
Some people are saying that the highly visible, highly visited forest along the Front Range will "never look the same."
Limited conifer regeneration following wildfires in dry ponderosa pine forests of the Colorado Front Range, by Fire Ecologist Monica Rother and CU-Boulder Professor of Geography Thomas Veblen, surveyed conifer regeneration at six low-elevation Front Range sites that burned eight to 15 years before. Released in December and published in the journal Ecosphere, it found that "current patterns of post-fire seedling establishment suggest that vegetation composition and structure may differ notably from historic patterns and that lower density stands and even non-forested communities may persist in some areas of these burns long after the fire[.]"
That prospect does not bother me on one level. I find the "start-up phase" of forests to be interesting. The big-game hunting is better too. Now if your house in the woods burned to the ground, you may not feel that way. And if you look at trees just as unharvested timber, you may not agree with me.

(But some of the land that has burned around me was never logged, because it is just too steep and rough. Other areas were logged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but then not managed for timber sales after that because of low productivity.)

"Lower-density stands"? Bring 'em on. Along with a predilection for orgies of food, drink, and firewood, I favor those evolutionary psychologist who think that human inherently like a meadow-and-forest (or savannah-and-trees) environment better than dense forest or grassland.

July 04, 2015

Only for Weather Nerds

If you live in Wyoming, the Black Hills, Colorado, or western Kansas and Nebraska, the most interesting weather forecast happens online, a service of the Geographical Area Coordinating Centers (now there is a bland and opaque bureaucratic name).

The "Daily Fire Fire Potential Briefing," a short mp4 video, talks a lot about relative humidy and wind but also serves well for forecasting weather in your area or where you plan to be going for outdoor activities.

Admitedly, the narrator sounds like the most boring graduate student teaching assistant that you ever had in college. But the info is solid. (So was the TA's, probably.)

February 08, 2013

Pine Beetles Down, Spruce Beetles Up

A new report from the Forest Service shows that the pine beetle infestation that has been so widespread in northern Colorado is waning, but spruce beetle activity is increasing, particularly in  the San Juans.

Read the entire summary here, with maps and graphs.

January 21, 2013

Mountain Snowpack for January 2013

The Southern Rockies are not doing so well, and the Black Hills look really dry. 

Some of us were down at the fire station on Saturday, testing the new floating pump (assuming that there might be a stream to float it in), all the other pumps, chainsaws, etc., checking hoses, organizing the various items of gear on the engines. Oh for the days when I could look forward to summer. Now I would just as soon see winter last longer.

Meanwhile, it is the height of the fire season in Australia, where in some parts of the country, the debate over environment, fire, and cultural desires continues.

July 22, 2012

Major Wildfires Since 2001

Mike at Firefighter Blog has an interesting graphic of major fires in the 48 states. What's going on there in eastern North Dakota? Combines full of dust and chaff catching fire? (I saw that once a couple of years ago.) Galen? Anyone?

As a Californian, Mike is most interested in the Next Big One of the incendiary variety and shows where he thinks that it is due to hit.

July 18, 2011

Rocky Mountain Low

Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states lead in suicides. No one knows why, but they trot out various explanations. Is because too many non-suicidal people live here?

ADDED: National parks also attract those who wish to die in beautiful settings.

April 09, 2011

Western Snow Pack Map for April 1, 2011

The snow pack map continues to show us in the tan--50 to 60 percent of average--with New Mexico looking worse.

If the map carried on east of New Mexico, you would understand why Chad Love has them bloggin'  Dust Bowl blues.

This map comes from the Natural Resources Conservation Service archive.

March 22, 2010

Forest Fires in 1910 and 2010

Even as the snow has been falling, I have been reading Timothy Egan's The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & the Fire that Saved America.

The "Big Burn," a convergence of lightning-caused wildfires in August 1910, burned parts of Idaho, Montana, Washington, and British Columbia.

It covered an area larger than Las Animas County, Colorado, or almost as large as the San Luis Valley. More than eighty people were killed, most of them untrained, hastily recruited firefighters.

Author Timothy Egan follows the same technique that he used in his Dust Bowl history, The Worst Hard TIme: following a small group of characters through the event.

One of the central characters is Forest Service assistant ranger (no college degree) Ed Pulaski (yes, pulaski as in the tool), who saves his crew when the forest explodes around them but who is then shafted by the nascent Forest Service bureaucracy.

So how did the Big Burn "save America"?  Apparently Egan is thinking like this:

Theodore Roosevelt, inspired by Gifford Pinchot and  John Muir, established many national forests, parks, and wildlife refuges.

The national forests were under the direction of Pinchot's new Forest Service, which was underpaid, spread thin, and generally got little respect in the West.

Although the Forest Service could not stop the Big Burn (and probably could not do so today), its truly heroic efforts were a public-relations victory.

That p.r. victory ensured that Roosevelt's vision of national forests, conservation, and public resources managed (in theory) for the benefit of all did not perish under his less-committed successors, notably the blubbery, indecisive William Howard Taft.

Thus the national forests, which Roosevelt  saw as a vital part of our national heritage, were preserved, hence "saving America."

On the down side, the catastrophe of the Big Burn produced the Forest Service policy of putting out all fires as quickly as possibly, which we now pay for in terms of a new generation of catastrophic fires fed by fuel-rich forests. 

For more, here is Smithsonian magazine's interview with Timothy Egan. You can listen to Egan's interview on NPR's Fresh Air.

Quibbles: Appreciative audiences shout, "Hear, hear," not  "Here, here" (what would that mean, in this place?). About half of Egan's statements regarding firearms are implausible or nonsensical. Apparently no one at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt can edit such statements.

And where on earth did he get the idea that Coeur d'Alene means "Heart of the Awl"? Wikipedia, evidently‚ and maybe he just cut-and-pasted. There is a reason why university professors tell their students not to trust Wikipedia. Alene is a old-fashioned girl's name, as a French friend once put it to me when looking at the map of Idaho.

But one thing early foresters such as William Weigle, first supervisor of the Coeur d'Alene National Forest, never thought about was the carbon footprint of forest fires.

Prescribed Fires Help Forests Sequester Carbon Dioxide?

When you watch a forest fire smoke plume rise into the sky, maybe you think about all the carbon it releases. Forest ecologist Jennifer Balch does.

In a recent NPR interview, she argued that her and others' research shows that prescribed burns, which do release carbon into the atmosphere, nevertheless make it possible for forests to regenerate and store even more carbon.

But one nagging question has been which puts more carbon up into the atmosphere, a series of small, prescribed burns or the occasional big wildfire? So, [Christine] Wiedinmyer developed a computer model to calculate that, using the record of both kinds of fires in the western U.S. from 2001 to 2008. She published the results in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Although the numbers are rough, the outcome is clear: prescribed fires do emit carbon but much less than the wildfires they prevent.
While some prescribed burns have gone notably out of control, others have worked well. Either way there is a risk, but the risk of a blow-up may be worse.

January 11, 2009

Cheap Gear

M. and I went to Colorado Springs earlier this week and stopped by our favorite department store, the ARC thrift store at 1830 W. Uintah St. It is large, well-organized, and full of cheap gear.

Stuff that did not exist when I was younger ...

A few weeks ago, M.'s winter parka experienced catastrophic zipper failure. At ARC, she picked up a like-new Columbia Omni-Tech parka for $20. (List price about $120.)

This was my day: A Cabela's "chamois cloth" shirt, maybe a discarded Christmas present worn once to please the giver, for $7.

Barely worn athletic shoes, $4, list price $49.95.

I don't normally buy used footwear, ski boots sometimes excepted, unless they are new or like-new and not shaped to the previous owner's foot. But sometimes you find new boots and shoes on the shelf -- shop-worn merchandise donated by retailers?

Like some no-name Chinese snow boots (with extra melamine): too clunky for long walks, but fine for going to the woodpile, short dog walks, or wearing into town on snowy or slushy days. Ten bucks.

Into my head floated the memory of a winter camping trip at Rocky Mountain National Park's Bear Lake with my Boy Scout troop from Fort Collins when I was 13 or so.

I was wearing jeans. And no one said anything, because that was pretty normal back then. (Even the ski patrolers wore jeans, to show that they were too cool to fall down and get them wet.) Of course, my jeans froze stiff from the knees down. The only other option might have been some Army-surplus wool trousers from Jax Surplus, if someone had suggested that.

Long underwear: cotton or some cotton-polyester blend?

Foot gear: well-oiled leather Wellingtons. And I wore them snowshoeing. It's what I had.

Sleeping bag: Army-surplus down-and-feathers bag, probably Korean War vintage, with a short foam rubber pad underneath--and not closed-cell foam, but something taken off a chaise longue, as I recall.

I don't remember what sort of coat I had -- some flimsy parka, most likely.

The second evening, the Scout leaders took us to see some wildlife movies in a heated Park Service building. Even then, I wondered if the main reason for that was the movies or just to get the boys warmed up before crawling into our miserable sleeping bags.

No harm done. We all survived and even enjoyed parts of it.

But I could walk around in the ARC store today and find cheap gear better than what Holubar Mountaineering was selling then (except for their down-filled sleeping bags).

December 14, 2008

Southern Rockies Wolf Politics Heat Up

Via Cat Urbigkit, a report on the usual conflicts over proposed wolf reintroduction in the Southern Rockies.

WildEarth Guardians recently petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a wolf recovery plan for the region. Re-establishing a population of the carnivores is crucial to bringing ecosystems back into balance, according to the group.

Not surprisingly, the Colorado Cattlemen's Association feels otherwise.

Coincidentally, M. and I were watching "Wolves in Paradise," a PBS program about livestock producers and (or versus) reintroduced wolves in an area north of Yellowstone National Park.

One rancher who spoke hopefully of "detente" and coexistence with the wolves still ended up having his employees shoot a couple -- and later calling in the federal "wildlife services" people to take out some more. The program offered no happy ending for everyone.