Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Climbing-Rescue Double Header

A couple times this week, I got a call from some climber who got my number from Tom Schuster at the City Hall. I finally got around to calling him back and we arranged to climb Sunday. Turns out Ben Nadler is quite a prolific climber, preferring splitter cracks like Indian Creek and the Basalt columns at Smith Rock. He's also climbed Squamish, Argentina and most of the West's more prominent crags. He's been in Cruces for 9 months now and has yet to get into the Organs, so I took him to Southern Comfort wall which has an easy approach and was fairly warm.

We climbed Black Velvet first and I let Ben lead all the good parts. I haven't fdone this route in a while, but it felt like it could be done in a single long pitch if you take the slab finish instead of the roof traverse. Ben had a 70 m rope but we still broke the climb into three pitches and we never climbed past the half-way point. We took a little lunch break and then I led us up DWI. This route was just my style: easy 5.10 moves, just-enough pro where I felt secure, but spread out enough where I had to focus. It starts up a loose slabby face past 3 bolts to a roof. 2 of th 3 bolts are old button-heads. The move stepping up under the roof was thin and committing but once under the roof I could reach some large jugs above and pull up to a good stance. The route then follows up a thin crack until the crack becomes nothing more than a seam which doesn't take any pro. At that point I made a few moves to the right where I gained another crack which would take some gear. This crack petered out too at a small stance with two bolts (one new one old). Above this bolt looked pretty blank as far as protection was concerned but I could make out a series of face holds which looked pretty good. I followed these up and slightly to the right where it looked like there might be some pro in some diagonal slashes. Turns out there weren't any placements there, but there were some decent rest-stances and I was able to finish up the route with only a marginal small wire for protection during the last 20 ft. Looking at Mountain Project now, it appears I should have gone left at the last bolt and into a small crack system. Next time.

Ben Nadler rappelling DWI

It was about 2 O'clock but Ben wanted to get back into town early so we called it a day and hiked out to the car. While driving down the Topp Hut road, Ben gets a call on his cell-phone from Liz. That made me a little worried, Liz wouldn't normally call a climbing partners phone while we were out unless it was something important. Ben handed me the phone and Liz tells me that there is a rescue Mission call-out and the meeting point is at La Cueva. Convenient that we were already out there. We head over and are one of the first OMTRS members to arrive. The State Police tell us that a 57 year old lady has fallen on the Organ needle trail, somewhere between a formation called "Yellow Rocks" and a saddle commonly known as "Juniper Saddle, which is about 2/3 to the top. Ben has some experience doing rescue missions and decides that helping us out is more important than his previous plans. We gear up for the mission and OMTRS members arrive at the start of the Modoc Mine rd. Ben, John, Grady James and I are assigned to the first team and we're the first to start up as people are trickling in. I guess this is pretty standard procedure for a mission where the subjects' location is pretty well known. A "Hasty team" sets off first carrying only emergency medical equipment and patient care packages. Their goal is to get to the injured subject as quickly as possible, start first aid if necessary and assess what additional rescue equipment will be needed to get the subject out. The rest of the teams bring up the heavy rescue gear as needed. It is about 3:30 when we head out. I am carrying a large but light pack of first aid supplies, neck-braces and warm blankets and pads. It takes us about an hour to reach the subject who was at a steep section of the trail underneath a large riolite rock formation commonly known as "The Grey Eminence". She looked bad, very pale and with dried blood all over her head. Her friend Ilene was with her and was trying to keep her warm. Ilene had gotten the call out around 2 O'clock, and they had been there for over two hours when we arrived and it was starting to get cold. The subject, Trudy, was in no condition to walk. She had sever gashes on here head, had suffered a concussion and injured her shoulder, all from a simple fall on one of the more treacherous sections of the trail.

What happened next blurs together somewhat, as dozens of people arrive and the team is mobilized to extract Trudy on a litter. John and Ben start first aid immediately and get Trudy more comfortable and warm as night falls. By 6 O'clock Trudy has been packaged up on the litter and various teams are scrambling below setting up rappel anchors to help get her down. The kind of extraction we were faced with is called Medium-Angle by experienced rescuers. This means that it is steep enough to make simply carrying of the litter extremely hazardous, but we are still able to walk/scramble down the trail. To mitigate the hazards, anchors are used to belay the litter down. The team has a humongous (and heavy) 100 m static rope which is attached to the litter to belay it down. The litter-carriers can then hang onto the litter and pull against the rope, which puts most of the weight of the subject on the rope. It's very similar to rappelling from a rock-climb, where you sit back and let your weight hang on the rope as you control your descent. The scale is much larger though, as the litter and six litter carriers can put a lot of weight on the system. Teams of people are furiously working below to make sure anchors are set up. Once the bottom of the rope is reached, a team of people quickly gather up the rope so it can be used below, and remove all the anchors above so that the webbing can be used below for the next a series of anchors. Medium-angle extraction requires a massive amount of coordination and effort. We had over 20 rescuers from both OMTRS and Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue helping and it took about 4.5 hours to get Trudy down the medium angle parts of the trail, as far as the "Yellow Rocks". We stopped here to allow the medics to start an IV and get Trudy full of fluids. We also tried to find a spot where a helicopter could land. From yellow-rocks to the top of Modoc mine rd, we carried Trudy out using the litter's wheel attachment to roll her on the trail. The end of the Modoc mine rd was our best bet for a helicopter landing spot, we reached it at 11pm. A helicopter was sent out from one of the hospitals and we cleared the landing zone and were ready to transfer her over, but the winds and terrain were too much for the pilot and they weren't able to land. We ended up loading Trudy into one of the team members vehicles, a tricked out Hum-Vee. Trudy was down to the main road and in an ambulance by midnight.

It's hard to briefly convey the amount of activity and effort that went into the rescue. We were fully mobilized for over 6 hours. We were a swarm of rescuers, head-lights bobbing up and down the mountain side. Everyone looking out for everyone else, and looking for ways that they can do the most good. At some points it was chaotic. Gear was being shuffled up and down the mountain side. One medic bag was carried up and down the trail twice due to communication misunderstandings. It wasn't uncommon for rescuers to be seen sliding down parts of the trail themselves, cursing and flailing. Collectively we must have carried out half of the habitats cactus thorns. But in the end we were a happy crew. We got Trudy out safely in the biggest mission that we've seen this year. We were tired, and sore, but content in a way that sustains volunteer organizations like ours.

Now, two days later the Organs have finally been dusted by snow, beautiful and rugged as ever.

Special thanks to Ilana, Kurt and Alden. I just got the new back-pack you sent me for my birthday and Sunday was it's first day out. That is an awesome pack, and the pefect size for climbing in the Organs and rescue missions. Thanks!

1 comment:

kgilg said...

Yay, I'm glad to hear that you liked the backpack! I hope it fit you properly, it came in 3 sizes (based on the length of your spine) and I took a guess and went with the medium. If it sits too high on the shoulders, then you should probably go down a size. Anyway, it looked like it would be just right for your day trips and I'm glad it worked out. Did you use it for your rescue? If so, how did that work for you?

Happy Birthday, by the way. Sorry I never got to talk to you. Give us a call when you get the chance. I'd love to hear how your evening out went.