First responders receive ice rescue training

Posted 2/18/10

Wyoming State Search and Rescue Association vice-chairman Don Foote headed up the festival Sunday. Fit and outdoorsy, Foote works for the National Park Service in the summer and is an emergency medical technician out of West Park Hospital in Cody …

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First responders receive ice rescue training


{gallery}02_16_10/iceclimbing{/gallery}Martin Barnett (left) of Golden, Colo., eases a stretcher down ice falls for vertical ice evacuation training as Travis Hannon of Cody repels Sunday as part of the 12th Annual Water Fall Ice Festival in Cody. Tribune photo by Carla Wensky A dizzying ice fall was the Sunday venue at the 12th annual Water Fall Ice Festival in Cody, supported by stout ropes, a spirit of adventure and community spirit.On Sunday, search and rescue and emergency medical responders underwent vertical ice evacuation training on a frozen falls glaring at the South Fork of the Shoshone River valley.

Wyoming State Search and Rescue Association vice-chairman Don Foote headed up the festival Sunday. Fit and outdoorsy, Foote works for the National Park Service in the summer and is an emergency medical technician out of West Park Hospital in Cody during the winter.

A rough head count includes 12 or 13 students plus two observers from the Powell Tribune heading up the South Fork to ice falls aptly named Broken Hearts, above Valley Ranch.

The falls are daunting — a narrow slab of ice appearing like a slick vertical sidewalk, guarded by a rocky, cathedral-like fortress brushing the wispy clouds overhead.

Headed for the base of the falls, men and women trudge up the steep canyon lugging packs, ropes, climbing gear and a stretcher.

Crampons — spikes affixed to boots — clank on the ice to accompany convivial voices echoing in the stony canyon.

“I wanna rock,” sings one climber a bit off key, but eager to tackle the mountain.

Foote outlines the basics of a litter called the “Nest” ­— a rescue litter that stabilizes a victim with straps and rubbery canvas. The Teflon-bottomed litter holds the body snug with a backboard and a constraining head board. Aboard the litter, the victim can be lifted or lowered in a position either vertical or horizontal to the mountain's face.

It's rated at 22 kilonewtons, or 4,928 pounds.

“This fits most people,” Foote said.

There are six pitches, rising a total of 450 feet. Each pitch has a level spot where climbers can tie off and belay those following.

The first 50-foot pitch is a nearly precipitous face of bumpy ice.

A climber, trailing a rope that will be attached atop the first pitch, prepares for his ascent. Carabiners and ice screws — hollow screws about three-quarters of an inch thick — hang from his harness and jingle like a apartment manager's key ring.

The climber drives his foot into the ice like a kicker delivering a short punt for purchase in the frozen surface. One step up, then an arm swings above his head to drive an ice ax into the pockmarked surface. A step up, then the other arm, also armed with an ax, hacks a hold.

A few chunks of ice rain down, resembling misshapen snowballs, to shatter at the base.

Slowly, with vigilant precision, the climber makes his ascent, then disappears over the rim.

Another climber stands at the base.

“On belay?” he asks.

“Yes,” a detached voice from above answers, “you're on belay.”

The gradient looks scary, but if the climber begins to fall, the mountaineer above, anchored to the ice, will check his fall with a belay rope.

Once he finishes the climb, two ropes are attached so two climbers can ascend simultaneously.

“Climbing on red!” is hollered as another in the climber begins.

More chunks fall to clutter at the base, forming a floor like slivers from an ice tray.

Kevin Inbody, a paramedic crew chief at West Park Hospital who does rescue operations for Marathon Oil, straps a “victim” into the Nest. He hums reassuringly as he works. In less than a minute, the passenger is immobilized, like a caterpillar in a cocoon unable to move.

A system of pulleys above will haul the victim up. The litter is pulled up a few feet, then a sort of brake is set; the rope is reset and they haul again. Up, up, up — like sailors heaving a rope to a capstan.

In December 2001, two ice climbers were killed on the South Fork. Another was killed in January last year, Foote said.

Foote pitches in to help Park County Search and Rescue when ice is involved.

All three fatalities were heartbreaking.

“I've done all three body recoveries,” Foote said. “It's misery. I had known all three of them.”

Sunday's group is a jovial lot, but the men and women take safety seriously. Everyone near the edge is tied off. The pulley, bolted to the ice, is painstakingly checked.

The crew is brisk, pulling or lowering the victim. That could be critical if it's the real thing.

The trainees, a bunch of community-minded first responders, are a community unto themselves.

“You build up a good friendship,” Foote said. “Everybody is there to get the job done.”

The $50 entry fee for each first responder will be earmarked for the Wyoming State Search and Rescue Association.

Graduates are certified to make ice rescues for one year, Foote said.

Foote said more than 150 climbers registered for the three-day festival and 200 attended the dinner at the Cody Cattle Company Saturday night.

The event, growing each year, was very successful, Foote said.

“And the most important thing, it was injury free,” he said.