Monday, April 18, 2011
First Search and Rescue Mission
At around noon on Sunday my phone starting buzzing with messages about an injured hiker on Mailbox Peak. The county was requesting assistance from all the search and rescue groups including Seattle Mountain Rescue (SMR). I have been receiving messages from SMR for a few weeks now but have been unable to respond to missions because the county had not yet issued my Department of Emergency Management (DEM) number. I was a little bummed I could not help out because I didn't have any other plans and it wasn't a bad day to be in the mountains.
Amazingly later that afternoon I got an email from one of our chairmen with my DEM number. At that point they were no longer requesting more people although the rescue was still ongoing. At 7 pm with the sun setting and a few thousand more feet of elevation to go down, additional people were requested to assist with the rescue. I rushed out the door and was at the trail head within an hour of the request. I met up with other responders and we headed up the trail.
Mailbox peak is a notoriously steep and treacherous trail. Rescues on this trail are correspondingly grueling. Despite the full moon, the thick forest was compeetly devoid of light. We used out headlamps to follow the narrow trail through the woods. Soon we could hear the rescue party above and before long we could see dozens of headlamps as rescuers guided the subject in the litter down the trail.
It takes an amazing number of people to get one person out of the mountains safely. The litter rides along on a single bicycle wheel while four people guide it and ropes are used to slowly lower the litter down the steep sections of the trail. It is tiring work and with all the trees and rough terrain many people are needed to pass the litter along and keep things moving. It is a constant game of leap frog. It might seem chaotic if it wasn't for the fact that it works. I have to say that this was an excellent first rescue mission for me. It was very satisfying to see the ambulance leave the trailhead with the victim knowing that it if wasn't for the dozens of search and rescue volunteers things could have turned out very differently.