Vail Daily column: Be prepared for your adventures | VailDaily.com
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Vail Daily column: Be prepared for your adventures

By Sheriff James van Beek | Valley Voices

Some are attracted to the beauty of the mountains; others, the small, caring community; many seek the security Eagle County provides; but a large number come here because of their sense of adventure. We feel a need to push the envelope; to live life to the fullest; to unplug and get out.

Integrating ourselves into that open space is exciting, yet part of that thrill can create challenging circumstances that may require the help of others. The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office is fortunate to have the Vail Mountain Rescue Group at the ready. Just when you think you’ve got it all handled, life happens and in our valley, it happens a lot.

The simple dog walk that suddenly turns deadly due to wildlife, weather, or terrain changes; the child chasing a bunny who disappears within moments; the elderly parent who is recalling past events and heads off in a new direction, unable to find their way back. Anyone can quickly find themselves in a life-and-death emergency, unable to move or reach anyone. What do you do?

Once 911 is reached, the rescue group is contacted. They immediately begin analyzing the area and planning the search with military precision. Everything is taken into consideration, from location, to destination, weather, the physical and psychological state of the victim, and their experience and familiarity with the area, issues relating to terrain and environmental conditions, evaluation of best equipment for the search, including anything needed for specialized circumstances, including air support. Interviews are conducted with family to gain insight into potential destinations and reasons for possible deviation from those plans. If, within 48 hours of disappearance, the cell phone forensics may be secured without a warrant (for emergency use only), to seek location, direction and speed of travel. The entire evaluation and prep may take several hours and the search can last weeks.

Vail Mountain Rescue Group is staffed exclusively by volunteers who put in over 8,000 man-hours per year. They are on-call 24/7 and their job is often extremely dangerous, as they hang off cliffs, navigate rapids, tackle nearly impossible terrain, helicopter in when necessary, handle wildlife, carry the injured over miles of difficult landscape; all while protecting the well-being of each victim. They go where most people would never dare to enter and they do it, risking their lives, at no pay, for the sheer love of their community.

You will never find a more dedicated group, and they operate with the support of the National Guard’s High Altitude Aviation Training Site, which provides military-grade aircraft; and with the generosity of community members, whose funding supplies trucks, boats, snowmobiles, tractors, climbing equipment, and anything else required for high-risk rescue missions. Volunteers range in age from their 20s to 70s, with each possessing a unique skill set. They dedicate countless hours to training and practice, knowing that lives depend upon their preparedness.

Living or visiting the mountains requires a high degree of situational awareness. Visitors tend to behave like they are simply out for a stroll at home; and locals are used to wandering into the mountains unprepared, as it is often a daily experience, but the very nature of our environment, requires that we maintain the highest degree of awareness. Vail Mountain Rescue Group suggests the following precautions:

• Bring a fully charged cell phone. Even with no reception, a 911 text can often be received.

• Even if familiar with the trail, bring a map (in case an alternate route back is needed).

• Go old-school and bring a compass as well as your GPS (usually your cellphone).

• Don’t go alone, if possible.

• If alone, then tell someone where you are going and an estimated return time. Even a note taped to a neighbor’s door is helpful. If not back within two hours of that time, then instruct them to call 911.

• Leave a copy of your hiking plans in the car. If it’s a regular destination, keep a permanent copy visible.

• If lost, do not move. You are easier to locate at the point of distress.

• Try to bring water

• If possible, then bring a small first aid kit and Swiss army knife in your pocket. The smaller and lighter, the more likely you are to take it with you.

• Be aware of altitude sickness. Remember that at 10,000 feet, oxygen is required and many of our local mountains are 11,000 to 14,000 feet. Also, altitude drugs dehydrate, so if taking them, water is essential.

• Satellite phones only get reception 70 percent of the time, so they may not be reliable .

• If in an area with active wildlife, then carry bear spray or something else to discourage an attack

Vail Mountain Rescue Group is an integral part of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and their service to the community saves lives and they do it at great personal risk. We wish to honor and thank their exceptional volunteers.


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