Celebrating Excellence: 2023 Search and Rescue Awards Inyo County SAR
Annually, the American Alpine Club hosts the Rocky Talkie Search and Rescue Awards, aiming to amplify awareness around the tireless work of search and rescue teams throughout the year. There are three winners each year with a $36,000 prize fund, recognizing their exceptional response to incidents in the previous year. In 2023, D4H users Inyo Search and Rescue secured the prize for a challenging 2022 rescue mission on Mt. Emerson.
Inyo Search and Rescue was established in 1952, as a volunteer-led team under the Inyo County Sheriff's Department in the rugged terrain of California's Inyo County consisting of low land desert and high alpine mountains. The team works year-round, and is especially busy during the summer months due to an influx of people visiting the region, eager to explore this mixed terrain. The team can respond to up to 50 incidents annually and they also occasionally work on rescue missions with neighboring counties.
Their rescue missions happen year-round in all weather and consist of looking for lost hikers, in the mountains or desert, climbing fall accidents, and paragliding crashes with the team specializing in high-altitude mountain rescue. The team of volunteers are all highly skilled with certificates held in CPR and first aid being a must and most members hold higher certifications, this is because most missions undertaken by the team involve patient care for injury and illness.
The team qualified for the D4H volunteer grant scheme, initially crafted for our founder's search and rescue team. Recognizing the financial constraints faced by volunteer teams, we provide our software at a highly discounted rate to teams who could not otherwise afford D4H. By utilizing the grant, the Inyo SAR team employs D4H Equipment Management, Personnel and Training, and Incident Reporting tools to enhance their rescue missions, enabling them to achieve their objective of responding with greater efficiency.
Rocky Talkie 2023 Search & Rescue Awards
The Rocky Talkie Awards are run by The American Alpine Club, a club run by enthusiastic sporting climbers, skiers, and mountaineers. The goal of starting the Rocky Talking Awards was to help raise awareness of the important and life-saving work undertaken by volunteer teams all over America, with the founders of the club being dedicated volunteers themselves on various SAR teams. The winners of these awards not only gain recognition for their mission efforts but also share a prize fund of $36,000, valuable financial support that can significantly impact both these teams and the individuals they rescue annually. Applicants for the awards are measured on their bravery and skill, with multiple winners each year.
Inyo SAR's winning rescue mission
In 2023 Inyo Search and Rescue team was one of three winners of the 2023 Rocky Talkie Awards for a rescue mission in 2022.
Being based in Inyo County California the volunteer team must be skilled to manage the varied landscape of desert and mountains. This winning rescue mission was on Mount Emerson. This was not the first rescue mission the team faced on Mount Emerson, most of the volunteers at Inyo SAR had previous experience climbing Mount Emerson and were aware of the difficulties of the climb.
The callout on this particular rescue involved a party of three climbers, up at 12,000 feet, up the South face of Mount Emerson on the waterfall route. The incident occurred at about 1 pm while climbing the mountain, a boulder fell hitting one of the climbers and breaking her leg. The Inyo SAR team received the call for help at around 2:30 pm that afternoon. The team set out to the rescue mission with a helicopter, with the intent to be lowered to the injured climber, stabilize the injury, and hoist them out to safety. The helicopter reached the climbing party at around 5 pm that evening however after a safety check it was established that it was an unsafe location for the helicopter to hover and the team had to return to their hut and find another solution for their rescue mission.
Due to being unable to access the patient and remove them safely via helicopter, the Inyo team members then had to then undertake a nighttime rescue mission where they had to climb to the patient on foot and lower them safely down the mountain. The team faced the huge challenge of lowering a patient with a broken leg down 1,500 feet of vertical rock climbing terrain. When undertaking any rescue mission the volunteer rescuers' priority must always be protecting their safety. The team started the mission by shuttling their rescuers and their equipment by helicopter up to the base of the mountain, beginning their climb at 8:30 pm that evening. Each of the members of the team when climbing on a rescue mission such as this one are climbing with up to 50 to 60 pounds of equipment on their backs. The first rescuer reached the patient at 10:30 pm that night, bringing a huge sense of relief to the stranded climbing party. The climbers had improvised a splint onto the broken leg of their friend, once the members of Inyo SAR reached her they got to work replacing their improvised splint with a vacuum splint.
Due to the late time of the mission, the weather began to turn cold, with a storm brewing on the mountain, causing additional risk of hypothermia for all involved. The team had to work quickly and efficiently to get the patient into a 'litter' to bring them down the mountain safely. The team had to rope in to avoid falling off the face of the mountain, one member was tasked with managing the patient while another was tasked to manage the rope line and anchoring to begin the lowering system, with the lower being managed by a third rescuer. The team used what is called a 'twin tension system' which incorporates two people at the top running each of the ropes; this is a safety measure. The litter had to be then lowered at a vertical orientation with a responder on either side and another at the foot to help move through the terrain. The team then had a sixth rescuer responsible for finding where the next anchor should be. The team was dealing with a loose rocky mountainside, and when rocks fell one of the rescuers bravely used his own body to cover the patient protecting her from the danger of being hit once again by another falling rock.
It took the team all night to safely descend the mountain with the patient, reaching the ground at 9 am the next morning. They were welcomed by twenty more volunteers from their team to support them after their long nighttime mission, with 3 miles left back to the trailhead and an awaiting ambulance.
Thanks to the incredible efforts of the Inyo SAR rescue team, the patient went on to make a full recovery and get back outside pursuing new adventures! Inyo County Search and Rescue did 44 rescues in the year 2022, all members are unpaid volunteers. We at D4H are proud to be able to support this amazing team and their brave efforts in their response to emergencies.
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