Consider this...you’re sport climbing at a popular crag in a very rural area. A few routes over, someone misses a clip, takes a fall, and decks. His legs are broken. You manage to get cell service and call 911. The dispatcher asks where you are and you tell her the name of the crag. She doesn’t know where that is, so she asks for nearby roads. But you’re from out of town and don’t know. Precious time is wasted as you and the 911 operator try to figure out where you are. When rescue does arrive, emotions run high and rescuers ask you to step aside, but you want to help. Later there’s criticism that climbers didn’t help the rescue go smoothly.
Search and rescue isn’t typically thought of as an access issue, but it can be. For those rare and unfortunate instances when climbers get in trouble, rescue is a critical part of overall climbing management. When climbers understand how rescue operations work and support their local rescue squad, rescues can go much more smoothly. But if climbers get in the way or don’t build a supportive relationship with their rescue squad, things can go sideways. This can cause negative attention from the land manager and have serious consequences for access.
Here are ways that you can support successful rescues:
- Be proactive with your LCO and share information. LCOs should reach out to help local rescue authorities improve response times by providing maps and information on where climbers are—names of crags, routes, access trails, and nearby roads.
- Follow instructions. When a rescue is called in, a legally regulated response is set in motion. Climbers should recognize that a rescue squad has authority and final say on all rescue actions. Follow instructions and respect their decisions.
- Don’t create another rescue situation. We all want to help, but if you’re at the site of an accident and decide to intervene, you may create another unsafe situation for rescue personnel. Know your limitations and be conservative. It can be a tough decision, but standing by might be the safest choice and the best way for the rescue to proceed quickly and safely.
- Ask first if you want to help. If you want to help, tell the rescue personnel what you can offer, including any relevant first aid, rescue, or guiding certifications you may have. They may welcome another helping hand, but you should ask first.
- Be sensitive with helicopter rescues. Helicopter rescues are especially high risk. If strict protocol isn’t followed, the pilot may abandon the rescue, which places everyone at greater risk. Follow rescue squad instructions and do not interfere.
- Join your local rescue squad. Many rescue teams may benefit from a climber’s experience and expertise. Some of the best mountain rescue teams in the world are composed of highly experienced climbers.
- Support your local rescue squad. Many rescue teams are under-funded or run entirely by volunteers. Make a donation or hold a fundraising event with your LCO that benefits the local squad.
It’s critical to respect the rules and protocol for rescue operations and to build partnerships with rescue teams so they can benefit from climbers’ experience and knowledge of climbing areas. Working together, we can save lives and keep our climbing areas open.