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The evaluators from other MRA-certified rescue groups unanimously passed the team in five key tests. Team members proved themselves April 12 in missing-person search, scree lowering and high-angle lowering, all conducted in Taylor Canyon. Then, April 13, they went on to successfully demonstrate their skills in avalanche and winter-evacuation scenarios at Monarch Pass.
Typically, 20 to 30 members are active and train regularly to meet MRA standards. The Rocky Mountain Region of the MRA requires recertification every five years. Each team member volunteers 200 to 1,300 hours per year, both training and on actual rescue missions, which average 50 each year.
The Gunnison County Sheriff’s Department oversees the team, which is the primary, MRA-certified, search-and-rescue team in Gunnison County. The team also responds frequently to calls for mutual aid from other SAR teams across Colorado, assisting fire departments, the National Park Service and other mountain rescue groups. Their missions range from alpine rescues to finding missing hikers and skiers. After floods ravaged the Boulder area in fall 2013, the Western team traveled to support the resulting SAR effort.
As they completed recertification, six Western Mountain Rescue Team members found themselves moving from the testing scenario to an actual rescue in Black Canyon of the Gunnison, where a climber was injured. Six fresh inches of heavy, wet snow and high winds complicated the effort to lift a victim 1,800 feet up the canyon’s North Rim.
Connie Rudd, superintendent for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and the Curecanti National Recreation Area, told The Watch in Montrose, “I am very proud of our search and rescue team and of the outstanding cooperative effort involved with our local partners. They have proven once again that visitor and employee safety is of ultimate importance. They carried out this nearly 24-hour long rescue with the utmost of professionalism.”
The Watch reported the climber from Durango was in stable condition, with ankle, chest, and facial injuries.
Story and pictures by Greg Smith, Western Marketing and Media Relations, based on reporting by Anna Boyle.