Members of the Teller County Search & Rescue (TCSAR) team will be holding a rigorous, overnight/winter survival training on the western flank of Pikes Peak later this week.
It is scheduled for Friday evening (January 20) and will extend until Saturday (Jan. 21).
According to John Slaughter, TCSAR president, about a dozen members will hike in about five miles on Raspberry Mountain and set up camp. The training coordinator on this training is Mitch Walma. He said the participants will be conducting a series of tasks during the event.
First off they will set up camp and prepare to spend the night in winter conditions in an exercise that would mirror an actual search situation.
Searchers carry enough gear to be able to make it through a night in the elements. The emphasis is too go as light as possible. Walma said, “We generally don’t use tents on these. It’s more of a ‘can you make it through the night healthy and be ready to go again in the morning.’”
After spending the night, members will train in land navigation; including following some user defined trails in order to familiarize themselves with some of these social trails. Doing some recon can prove to be invaluable in the event that someone accidentally finds themselves lost by getting on the wrong trail.
Members will also train to be able to find water in freezing conditions by melting snow.
Another aspect of the training is for members to familiarize themselves with their personal gear and how to move efficiently without overheating. Knowing when to add or remove clothing layers is important to keep from getting sweaty.
Walma stated, “We see mistakes that happen among trail users and even our team members become overheated. They’ll sweat and get damp. They don’t hike cool enough. So we ask people to hike cool and get warm on the breaks. The key is to stay warm, just don’t sweat. Our big number one rule in winter time is DON’T SWEAT!”
“It is exercises like this that develop knowledge of yourself, how you operate in winter, and how we operate in winter as a team, and take care of each other, and look out for each other. It’s also a nice fitness test and a team building experience.” said Walma.
He continued, “In search and rescue there is a lot of movement for quite a while and then when you find someone there is not a lot of movement for quite a while. If someone is injured we can’t just pick them up because we’re not all carrying a litter. We have to wait for the litter to come to us. We will analyze, stabilize and warm the patient and while the patient is getting warmer, we are rapidly getting colder.”
Big organization changes for TCSAR
The unit has recently experienced a decline in membership. Their long time president Mike Smith recently retired for personal reasons. Smith’s partner Janet, who was membership chair during Smith’s tenure, also stepped down. Their new president, John Slaughter, is faced with rebuilding the unit due to declining membership. Not long ago the unit boasted 70 members, but now they are down to around 30.
Slaughter said they elected a new membership chairperson last Wednesday, and his main priorities for the unit are finding new members and fund raising.
Members are strictly volunteers and must supply their own personal equipment. Large equipment such as, the command vehicles, ATVs, and snowmobiles belong to the county, but are designated to the SAR fleet.
According to the TCSAR website; “Our mission is “locating and rescuing people in all areas of Teller County and portions of the surrounding area.” This includes El Paso, Douglas, Park and Fremont Counties via agency assistance agreements. The area includes hundreds of square miles of rugged national forest land including a portion of Pike’s Peak. We can, and do, respond elsewhere in the state to assist other search and rescue units. By building strong relationships with these other departments, the result is a mutual assistance environment that benefits Teller County as well as our neighbors.”
TCSAR is currently accepting new members. According to Walma the type of people they are looking for are people who “are dedicated to learning (and unlearning). Learning how the team operates, bringing their background, and experience to the team, but also willing to adjust what they know to have it fit in with a search and rescue team setting. All the protocols change when you’re not just climbing for yourself but are out to rescue someone. Someone who is willing to get up at 11 p.m.at night after they just went to bed and go out. Someone who will find the value in the adventure in helping other people. Because there certainly is a unique feeling that can overcome you when you’re driving out to a trailhead in the middle of the night and if you do your job right and you get lucky you get to save somebody.”
You don’t have to be an expert climber or have dozens of 14ers under your belt to find satisfaction in becoming a member of the team. As with the army that travels on its stomach, support people are an integral part of a functioning SAR unit.
Support people on search missions are every bit as important to a successful mission as the guys setting up complicated rigging to rescue an injured climber, or someone who has had a mishap on a hiking trip.
If you are interested in joining TCSAR you begin by attending one of their monthly meetings. They meet on the first Wednesday of every month at the NETCO fire dept at 1010 Evergreen Heights Dr in Woodland Park. The meeting begins at 7 pm. New applicants are required to pay an initiation fee of $50. This will cover your first year’s dues and your background check.
TCSAR is a 501-3c organization and is always happy to receive donations.