Saturday, August 05, 2017

Rangers and Helicopters

Mt. Rainier Climbing Rangers are a enigmatic, tight knit bunch of mountain men and women that live their summers at 10,000 on the side of a active volcano covered in ice. They spend most of their time helping visitors, answering questions, climbing to the summit, and occasionally rescuing one of the 10,000+ climbers that attempt to summit this grand "mountain" every season. One could imagine the multitude of hazards involved with a job like that.
Climbing Rangers in spring conditions crossing the Muir Snowfield

NPS Photo 2017
Mt. Rainier Climbing Rangers are continuously training throughout the climbing season.  During a normal season training begins in early March and continues through the summer months until the main climbing season ends in the fall.  Their job demands a high level of skill and knowledge to safely conduct complex search and rescue operations in less than ideal locations.

To the left we see a climbing ranger hailing a helicopter for a mountain rescue operation. 

One of the rangers main tools is a yellow bird in the sky, otherwise know as an A-Star B3 Helicopter. This is a power tool and allows for rescues that would take multiple days and many hands to just a few hours and a couple of rangers. Rangers use several techniques with this helicopter to access injured climbers. Some techniques involve stepping out of hovering helicopters to hanging on a rope below.
A Mt. Rainier climbing ranger accesses steep snow covered terrain from a short haul rope.

NPS Photo 2017

Short-haul is a term used by the Park Service that in layman's terms means "hang me from a helicopter."
This technique is used when a location is difficult to access safely on the ground. Rangers can be set precisely where they want to access an accident scene using limited time and exposure to themselves and their patients. Mt. Rainier has been successfully conducting short-haul operations every summer on Mt. Rainier over the past 6 years. The Park still uses the Military Chinook CH-47 for rescue operations but has been increasing the number of rescues done by Short-Haul since its inception.
Over the past two seasons climbing rangers have expanded their borders to include Cascades and Olympic National Parks.  Rangers travel to these other parks to provide needed assistance for search and rescue operations in remote locations.

Rangers can be found high above the clouds in a stone hut on the side of an ever change glacial landscape. The beauty and views captured from such a place is life changing for many who take the time. Next time you are at Camp Muir or Camp Schurman be sure to say hello to the on duty ranger. They can usually be caught enjoying one of the many beautiful sunsets.
A sea of clouds below the Winthrop Glacier