Stay safe, get found, learn mountain medicine

By Cindy Brown
For The Taos News
Posted 8/16/18

With the waning of summer, nature beckons us outside ever more urgently. Locals and visitors are hearing the call and getting outside to camp, hike, bike, fish, hunt and gather …

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Stay safe, get found, learn mountain medicine

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With the waning of summer, nature beckons us outside ever more urgently.

Locals and visitors are hearing the call and getting outside to camp, hike, bike, fish, hunt and gather wood while the weather is still good. The mountains around Taos offer incredible beauty and the chance to experience the peacefulness of the forest.

Planning ahead can help prevent injuries, keep you from getting lost and ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

Staying safe

Chris Kodey, training officer for Taos Search and Rescue offers a few reminders on how to stay safe outdoors. "Always bring the "10 essentials" when going out for a hike," says Kodey. "Even if it's for a short jaunt up the trail, always be prepared. Circumstances can turn for the worst extremely fast in the backcountry, including things like a sprained ankle, thunderstorm or rockfall. It's best to have the gear and not need it, but if the need does arise, a few simple things can save your life."

Going out adventuring with a friend ensures you have some help if things go wrong. It's also important to let other people know where you are going and when you will be back.

"You can leave a note with your itinerary on the dashboard of your car. That way, if you don't return, someone can alert the authorities," offers Kodey. He suggests carrying a PLB (personal locator beacon) or GPS messenger in the event of an emergency. These devices send your exact location to the search and rescue team, which can reduce response times.

Experienced outdoor adventurers might feel that they don't need to prepare as carefully as someone who is new to the outdoors. Kodey says that Taos rescue teams have responded to many calls for rescues that involved someone going for a short or familiar hike and finding themselves in a dangerous situation.

As a final reminder: afternoon thunderstorms are still going on. "Start early and end early," recommends Kodey. "Afternoon thunderstorms are common during the summer months and getting off high peaks by noon or earlier is highly recommended. Lightning and flash flooding are very real threats in Northern New Mexico."

Rescue

If you do find that you are injured or completely lost, try to contact emergency response services by calling or texting 911, if you have reception. Do what you can to make yourself visible to searchers, including hanging a bright coat on a tree or waving at rescue helicopters.

Most important: stay in one place. "Do not wander around looking for a way out if you're lost. It is extremely difficult to locate someone if they keep moving out of the search area. Build a campfire and set up a shelter," says Kodey.

You may have to wait for a while, so stay patient and calm. It takes time for a search and rescue team to be called out and to find you.

Taos Search and Rescue and other rescue teams provide services free of charge. "If you or someone you know is in a potentially life-threatening situation, please contact the authorities as soon as possible," says Kodey. "We are a group of professional volunteers, and our main mission is to help others in need."

Training programs

Kodey coordinates training programs for the search and rescue team. In September, the group will be conducting a joint training regarding mountain medicine and rescue with the International Mountain Medicine Center at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Dr. Doug Dixon, medical director of Taos County Emergency Medical Services and pending medical director at TSAR, brought the two organizations together.

The International Mountain Medicine Center provides training and rescue services all over New Mexico. It was founded by paramedic Jason Williams, who is now the center's director.

Williams has 15 years of experience with search and rescue. He trained with Air Zermatt, a famous mountain air rescue service in the Alps of Switzerland. He brought his knowledge home to New Mexico to create a curriculum for an undergraduate degree with a concentration in mountain medicine.

The program was the first of its kind in the United States and was accredited to offer an international diploma in mountain medicine. The faculty consists of mountain rescue paramedics, emergency medicine physicians and mountain guides.

Several levels of training are offered, beginning with the community wilderness first-aid training, which is a two-day introduction on how to care for yourselves and others and recognize emergency situations. The highest level is the diploma program, one of only three such programs in the U.S.

This level of training is offered to medical professionals. Introductory lectures are presented, followed by work in the field. "It is a way to get these professionals out of the parking lot in order to practice rescuing people. Rock climbing, avalanche situations and helicopter rescue are part of the training, which is held under summer and winter conditions," says Williams.

The center will offer the diploma program at Taos Ski Valley, August 20-23. Medical professionals from all of the United States as well as Australia, Canada and South America are scheduled to attend.

"The diploma seminar starts in Albuquerque in the classroom and then we work in the Sandia Mountains. We are happy to escape the heat and enter into the alpine environment of the Taos Ski Valley to practice rescue scenarios," says Williams.

Navigation skills, including working with GPS systems, along with maps and compass is part of the training. Rope rescue both moving over rock faces and using rope systems for rescue are part of the curriculum. Several emergency room doctors from Holy Cross Hospital have trained in the program and are part of the teaching staff, including Dixon.

The Taos Ski Valley Foundation founded by conservation philanthropist and owner of Taos Ski Valley, Louis Bacon, has been supportive of the programs of the center and provided a significant grant to expand its course offerings, research and international activities.

What a rescue looks like

Last year, when the diploma class was preparing for its final exam, they got the call that a hiker had been lost in the Sipapu area. "We got 15 people in the car and headed out to Sipapu," says Williams. In this case, the woman spent a couple of cold nights in the forest and hiked out on her own.

Others are not so lucky. Williams was called out to a rescue at the Shield rock formation in the Sandia Mountains. He had been climbing himself in El Rito with his wife and climbing partner Courtney Bryan, when he got the call. Both Williams and Bryan, as members of Albuquerque Mountain Rescue, were dropped into the Sandias on a hoist from a helicopter.

A climber had fallen and had multiple fractures. The two had to move the climber 200 feet to get to a spot where she could be rescued by helicopter. Williams arranged for a blood transfusion for the climber on the way to the hospital. The climber made a full recovery.

For more information

Taos Search and Rescue has been serving the community for 35 years. To find out more visit sar-taos.org. The organization does not receive any state or federal funding to operate and depends on the generosity of donors in the community. They are always looking for new volunteers.

"The work is extremely rewarding and fun, so it's a great fit for those who want to give back to the community and be outdoors," says Kodey.

To find out more about the International Mountain Medicine Center, visit unm.edu/immc/index.

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