Ouray County Plaindealer: Mountain Rescue Needs New Wheels

By Sheridan Block

Twenty-plus years and at least 300 rescues later, the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team’s roadside savior — affectionately known as “Venerable R12” — will soon retire. Earlier this month, OMRT began its fundraising campaign to replace the crew’s main road rescue vehicle.
Venerable R12 is the main rescue vehicle for roadside missions. OMRT member Jeff Skoloda said it is typically used for rescues along US 550 as well as some Jeep road rescues where vehicles and individuals may have fallen down a cliffside.

The vehicle is specifically equipped to handle rescues where hoisting individuals is required. Venerable R12 features a special pull rope system mounted on a customized bumper as well as two adjustable arms attached to the rooftop ladder rack. The system allows rescuers to reach high directional points over steep edges, making rope movement and maneuvering as easy as possible without disturbing edges or adding friction to the system, explained Skoloda. The unit also creates a safer way to hoist and raise patients and rescuers out of difficult situations.
However, over the years the rescue rig has started wearing down and OMRT is in desperate need of a younger but just as capable model to replace it.
“That vehicle has gotten to the point where it’s not reliable enough,” said Skoloda. “When a page goes out, we need to be prepared.”

OMRT has budgeted $65,000 to purchase a new vehicle which will include the same rigging system as the Venerable R12 as well as the required suspension modifications and radio system. Skoloda also noted the new vehicle will include an “enclosed back” to allow the team to carry a litter and keep patients out of potentially harsh elements. Likewise, a lighter vehicle would make traverses over Jeep roads more manageable.

According to Skoloda, the team believes a new vehicle with all the bells and whistles can be purchased within the $65,000 budget.

Within two weeks, OMRT has raised about $25,000 for the vehicle. The team will also pursue grants and host other fundraising events to help pay for the new vehicle, but Skoloda noted community support is critical to the endeavor.

“Our community is what makes Mountain Rescue work. We’re made up entirely of volunteers and there are no paid positions. We respond 24/7, 365 days a year and there is no charge for our services,” he said.
OMRT will not be without a rescue vehicle should the Venerable R12 decide to retire early. The team’s fleet also includes a Toyota Land Cruiser, which is dedicated to backcountry rescue missions. However, a big-rig unit like R12 is “pivotal” for roadside rescues, said Skoloda.

Donations can be mailed to Ouray Mountain Rescue Team, P.O. Box 220, Ouray, CO 81427. Supporters can also donate online through Paypal at www.ouraymountainrescue.com or drop off donations at Ouray Glassworks with team member Sam Rushing. OMRT is a 501c3 organization and all donations are tax deductible (see OMRT’s website for its tax ID number).

“All donations are greatly appreciated, no matter the size,” said Skoloda. “The community has always been awesome about supporting us. Now we’re just asking for a little help.”

OMRT Participates in Multi-agency Effort to Rescue an Injured Motorist Over the Edge of Highway 550 Near Red Mountain Pass

Photos by Mike Gibbs

OMR was called out to assist with the rescue of an injured motorist who had gone off the edge of Highway 550 just South of Red Mountain Pass on March 25, 2011. The vehicle had gone off the highway and plummeted almost 90 meters to the bottom of the canyon below. A passer-by had stopped and scrambled to the scene to assist the motorist whose car was engulfed in flames from the crash. Thanks to the heroic efforts of this good samaritan, the injured motorist was extricated from the vehicle; however, he had suffered second degree burns and smoke inhalation and needed immediate extrication and treatment. OMR personnel assisted with rigging and extrication of the patient who was transferred to Ouray County EMS after being raised to the highway utilizing the capstan system on OMR’s R12 rescue vehicle. The patient was then transported by OCEMS to the Ouray Hot Springs park, and ultimately transferred to St. Mary’s CareFlight out of Grand Junction. This rescue was a collaborative effort between OMR, OCEMS, San Juan SAR, Silverton Volunteer Fire Department, Silverton SO, Colorado State Patrol, and Ouray Volunteer Fire Department.

OMRT Rescues Injured Climber in the Ouray Ice Park

Photos by Nate McKenzie

The OMR Team was called out for an injured climber at the bottom of the lead only area of the Ouray Ice Park on March 4, 2011. The climber sustained hip, pelvic, and rib injuries as a result of a 50-foot fall. Approximately 15 OMR team members responded to the call, as well as Ouray County EMS and SO personnel. The injured climber had the good fortune of climbing with highly trained partners with extensive medical and rigging experience. The injured climber’s party stabilized and treated the patient on-scene until OMR personnel arrived to assist with patient packaging and extrication. The patient was raised from the bottom of the Gorge utilizing the capstan system on OMR’s R12 rescue vehicle, and a tether backtie for litter stabilization. The patient was then transferred to Ouray County EMS, and ultimately transferred to St. Mary’s CareFlight out of Grand Junction.

OMRT Responds to Semi Over the Edge on Highway 550

In a driving snowstorm during the early morning hours of January 6 a small group of OMR Team members headed up Highway 550 for a day of cat-skiing in Durango. About five miles up the road, riders in the lead vehicle noticed what appeared to be fresh vehicle tracks leading off the edge of a precipitous portion of the highway. Although it was too dark to see anything in the gorge 400-feet below, further investigation showed that a large vehicle had indeed gone over the edge in the last few minutes. A little history in this exact spot (see below) also created a high index of suspiscion for some of the Team members on scene.

In what may be a record incident response for the OMRT, this makeshift group sprung into action in organizing a search and rescue. A 911 callout was immediately made, and using equipment carried in the vehicles on-hand, an OMRT responder was rapelling into the gorge within a few minutes. Contact was soon made with the driver of a semi-truck 400-feet below. Amazingly, the driver had suffered only minor injuries. In the meantime, the rest of the Team was enroute with a full complement of rescue equipment. The driver was extricated from the vehicle, fully-packaged as a precautionary measure, and lifted out of the gorge utilizing low angle rope rescue measures. The driver was then transferred to Ouray County EMS, transported to Montrose Memorial Hospital, and released later that day.

A happy ending was enjoyed by all as the initial group still made it to Durango for some excellent powder skiing!

Photos courtesy of Jack Brauer – Mountain Photographer :


OMRT Rescues Injured Climber from the Snake Couloir (Mt. Sneffels)

The OMR Team was called out for an injured climber at the bottom of the Snake Couloir on Mount Sneffels on June 30, 2009. The climber sustained back and leg injuries as a result of a 100-foot fall. Approximately 20 OMR team members and reserves responded to the call, as well as Ouray County EMS and SO personnel. Hasty teams approached the scene by climbing over Mt. Sneffels from the South side and by the Blaine Basin Trail on the North. The injured climber was treated and packaged on the scene and then lowered almost 2000 vertical feet using a variety of rigging techniques. The patient was ultimately transferred to St. Mary’s CareFlight out of Grand Junction and transported to Montrose Memorial Hospital.

OMRT Rescues Injured Ice Climber

The Team was called out on January 21, 2009 for an injured ice climber who fell almost 30m while climbing in the “lead only” area of the Ouray Ice Park. The climber fell while on lead and suffered a severe ankle leg fracture. Amazingly, and despite a fall of this length, the climber did not hit the ground, and suffered no other injuries.

Response to the call was quite rapid as a few OMRT members were climbing nearby. In addition, three more OMRT members who happened to be teaching a Rigging for Rescue class nearby, were also able to respond almost immediately. OMRT members had the patient packaged in a few minutes and ready for a full vertical raise to the upper bridge of the Ice Park.

OMRT Rescues Lost Hikers on Difficulty Creek Trail

The Team was called out on Labor Day weekend 2008 for two lost hikers in the Uncompahgre Wilderness area. The hikers had set out on the Horsethief Trail with the intent of doing a large loop hike with the Dexter Creek trail, but in overcast and foggy weather they got off the Difficulty Creek trail connecting the two. The hikers found a spot where they were able to get cell phone coverage and called for help on Sunday evening. We were then able to set up a direct line of communication with the hikers to assess the situation.

Fortunately for all involved, these were savvy hikers, who were well prepared for the unexpected. The hikers were carrying extra clothing, rain gear, options for starting a fire, and a map and compass. As darkness descended over the Difficulty Creek drainage, it was agreed that they would find a well sheltered spot to hunker down for the night. With continued communication we were able to positively confirm that the hikers were not injured and they were able to start a fire to keep themselves warm. We instructed them to stay in their current location and we would send up search teams the following morning. After re-establishing communcation at 0500 the next morning, we implemented our search plan, which consisted of several small search teams heading up various established trails in the area, as well as a communication relay network so that each search team could stay in constant communication with our base, and the base could then stay in touch with the lost hikers. Using landmarks and solid map and compass techniques, the hikers were located by mid morning and escorted to safety.

The moral of this story is that age old adage of being prepared. The successful outcome of this search and rescue was largely aided by the fact that the lost hikers carried the appropriate equipment and used good old common sense. They simply lost their way, but their actions during this mission were a textbook example of what should be done in such a situation.

“Miracle on the Mountain”

This is one of our classic rescues that later came to be known as the “Miracle on the Mountain”, even inspiring the design of our 2005 t-shirt. One of two cars returning family members from a basketball game in Durango disappeared after rounding a turn. The mini-van had gone off Highway 550 at a shallow angle before impacting obstructions and then sliding straight down to the river below. The vehicle, with six people on board, came to a rest next to the river, approximately 400 feet below the edge of the road. Family members in the following vehicle, equipped with On-Star, summoned help, and the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team responded. Amazingly, only one person in the crash sustained injuries sufficient enough to warrant a low angle rescue and a trip to Montrose Memorial Hospital. The remaining five passangers had not suffered injuries, and were assisted out with ropes and jumars (rope climbing devices).

A number of critical elements came together to result in the successful conclusion of this rescue. first, individuals in the following car immediately noticed the absence of the vehicle, investigated and called for help. Had that not occurred, the vehicle in the gorge may not have been spotted for days. Second, the specific point of departure from the road led to a shallow angle descent, using up perhaps a quarter to a third of the vertical distance, thus minimizing force of the final descent. Third, the several feet of snow on the steep sides acted as a brake, slowing both the cross-wise and subsequent straight down slide, minimizing impact forces on the occupants. In fact, although the vehicle rolled once, the air bags did not deploy.