Q&A with author Hal Clifford

Mountain rescue: life and death on a rescue team

Q&A with author Hal Clifford

Do young rescuers get too enthusastic?
Are team members all volunteers?
How can I get involved?
A team member responds to the book
Aspen's only one of many excellent rescue teams
I want to climb--where can I learn how?
What are the qualifications for volunteering on a rescue team?
Did I really say that?
Is this book just for mountain rescue volunteers?
How dangerous is rescue work? How did you get involved in it?
How can I get rescue training?
What about the fatal Mt. Rainier rescue this summer?
Should people pay for their own rescues?

I want to climb--where can I learn how?
Where can you get experience for climbing the Rockies?
Joyce Hall
Pullman, WA

Hal responds: Joyce: I guess that depends what kind of climbing you want to do. A lot of the fourteeners here are just long slogs without technical elements to them. I grew up in New England, and found the White Mountains provided plenty of experience for that.

For technical climbing, well, I don't want to sound trite, but you just need to climb. There are guide schools here (I work part-time for one, Aspen Alpine Guides), as well as in Boulder, Telluride, etc. that can teach you some good techniques or take you on a trip. You can learn good technical skills anywhere. You don't need glacier travel skills, although on many peaks you'll encounter snowfields, and so you should be proficient at self-arrest and snow travel.

For winter mountaineering or ski trekking, again, many people turn to guide services. If you want to go on your own, educate yourself about avalanche hazard here. Statistically, Colorado is the most dangerous state in the nation as far as total avalanche deaths. We have a very dry snowpack that builds deep layers of depth hoar, which means conditions can be very bad for days or weeks on end. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center provides general hazard forecasts for various regions, but you should be able to do your own hazard assessments and know about safe travel and rescue techniques.

Regardless of when you go, get familiar with the weather patterns of your area of choice and be ready for them. A visit to a local mountain shop or a call to a guide service can be a good way to pick up some information. Do some reading, talk to the locals, and take the right gear.

Bottom line: Just do it. In my experience, these mountains are a great place to learn.

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