Saturday, June 11, 2011

Responding to the Call

You may remember that a few weeks ago I went through Search and Rescue (SAR) training so that I could respond to incidents in the park. Last Sunday I had my first chance. I responded to a call with two other rangers but had only made it about 2/3 of a mile up the trail in question when the injured man (who had fallen 50 feet onto solid granite while rock climbing) was successfully airlifted off the mountain in a helicopter, thus rendering us unnecessary. It was well that he was for he was in critical condition and would have faced a six-eight hour carryout had we had to use that option.

Today, however, was a different matter. Shortly after 11:00 this morning a call came over the radio for a medical emergency at Old Rag Mountain, one of the toughest summit climbs not only in the park, but in the state of Virginia. Shortly thereafter the call went out for a litter team and the visitor center received a phone call requesting anyone that could respond to the incident. I was supposed to be going on lunch at 11:30 and then be on the desk for 6 hours this afternoon, but my coworkers said they could find a way to cover without me and I was able to respond.  I arrived at Old Rag with four others and headed up the mountain. We intercepted the litter about 1/4 mile from the summit and were quickly pulled into service as the only other people there were the old rag mountain stewards (volunteers who help take care of the mountain and its visitors on weekends) and two other park personnel.

I spent a substantial portion of the next 3.5 hours helping to carry and maneuver the litter down an incredibly steep and rocky trail. Old Rag is a very difficult trail in any circumstances, and when carrying a litter it is challenging indeed! We twice had to set up a belay line to help control and guide the litter down slick and steep sections.

The task was made more interesting when a thunderstorm hit us out of nowhere, quickly soaking everyone and making it that much more difficult to find good solid footing.

But in the end we got her down, and a woman that would otherwise still be lying in agony on the top of the mountain is currently safely in a hospital as a result of our labors. The experience was a model of teamwork, as we had to communicate to those behind us about what was coming up in the trail and frequently had to pass the litter from one person to the next as the trail was so narrow and steep that it was impossible to walk with it. Six people must always have hold of the litter in order to control it and carry it successfully. That is not easy to do in those circumstances.

With one person it would have been impossible. But with a team working together we got her off the mountain. It was a powerful picture of what a difference one person can make when a part of something bigger.  I am exhausted now, completely physically spent, but it was well worth it. It is highly likely that I will be on a carryout again before too long as it is not uncommon for someone to get hurt in this park, particularly on Old Rag.

So instead of working at the desk I spent most of the day carrying a litter. That marked the fourth day of consecutive work that I spent doing something unusual.

On Wednesday and Thursday I backpacked into the wilderness of the park on a Leave No Trace training course, spending the night sleeping under the stars and learning how to camp with as little impact as possible on the environment. I am now certified as a Leave No Trace trainer myself.
 Yesterday I spent the day in a training course on interpretation and how to develop interpretive programs. So in four days I found myself doing three very different sorts of things.  On the way back home last night I stopped and hiked down to White Oak Falls. On the way back I ran nearly smack into a bear on the trail. It is the closest I have come to a bear thus far and the first time we have been face to face. I also finally got at least some decent pictures, two of which you can find posted in a new album.

So one might say that this has been a rather interesting week!

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