Last weekend a group of Montrose Search and Rescue (SAR) team members along with two Los Angeles County Sheriff Air Rescue 5 medics climbed frozen waterfalls in Lee Vining Canyon, just east of Yosemite. It was the yearly training of “V.I.R.T.,” (Vertical Ice Response Team).
This type of climbing is highly technical and dangerous. Specialized tools are required which include crampons, ice axes and ice screws. The team had two guides from the American Alpine Institute with them. The guides were able to show team members the most current climbing techniques.
In the past, Montrose SAR team members have experienced injuries during the training. One year an Air 5 medic suffered a fractured arm and last year one of the guides suffered a broken hand while he was belaying a team member, which involves holding the other end of a rope while climbing an ice column that shattered.
The ice climbing skills learned by the team have been put to use in different scenarios. In a rescue a few years ago, the team helped a stranded woman climber whose boyfriend had fallen to his death. The team found her clinging to a tree at the top of an ice chute.
Member Mike Leum started the ice program for the team after realizing that with proper training the team could safely access areas that in the past were determined too dangerous.
“I [thought] any team member who is comfortable climbing a frozen waterfall will be comfortable under almost any climbing scenario,” Leum said.